Szilárd Mezei/Michael Jefrey Stevens

Anzix
Artists Recording Collective No #

Set up at first glance like one of the most conventional chamber music recitals, featuring a duo of viola and piano, Anzix instead turns out to be almost an hour of uncompromising improvisation. More specifically the eight spontaneous creations pulse with unpredictable yet profound sounds due to the skills of the players involved.

Asheville, N.C.-based pianist Michael Jefrey Stevens is quite at home in free improv and other circumstances, having spent years in different band configurations from mainstream to experimental, with such confreres as American bassist Joe Fonda and German reedist Gebhard Ullman. On the other hand, Anzix is somewhat of a departure for Hungarian-Serbian violist Szilárd Mezei. Although he has been represented on a steadily lengthening group of CDs over the past decade, usually in mid-sized configurations, most are formal performances of his own compositions. This CD however gives him a chance to sharpen his improvising talents, generating his own timbres while reacting to Stevens’ playing.

From the beginning the interface involves almost as much internal string plucking from Stevens as external angled playing from Mezei. From his side of the performance as well, the fiddler often suggests Middle Eastern or Roma sounds in the form of flying spiccato or sul ponticello rubs. Matching Mezei’s note pressure are Stevens’ galloping chording, expressive glissandi or pumping asides which at points take on Blues tonality.

An invention such as “Anzix To Far” for instance unrolls with the sonic menace found in spy films as dramatic tremolo chording from the pianist meets the violist’s harsh stopping and multiphonic extensions. In double counterpoint the two put stress on their respective strings to produce maximum percussiveness and juddering echoes. For instance, accompanying a low-pitched, left-handed interlude with key clips from his other hand, Stevens’ hearty variations soon meets Mezei’s string-bass like plucking which is simultaneously atonal and speedy. On “Anzix From Far” on the other hand, the violist’s double-pumped spiccato contrasts markedly with the pianist’s cascading and high frequency note patterns. The sequence forces the two further apart as Mezei’s tremolo passages contrast with Stevens’ processional repetitions. Working his way from soundboard echoes to single notes, the keyboardist’s strategy is then mirrored by the fiddler’s pizzicato motions.

Although it times in at nearly 20 minutes, seven more than next lengthiest track, “Too Close Anzix” merely appears to give the duo more space to improvise, rather than suggesting a climax. As Mezei emphasizes rhythmic vibrations which lead to guitar-like twangs from his viola, Stevens’ pedal work and keyboard patterns intermittently suggest percussion work. Pitch-sliding with pointillist movements, the two advance the piece chromatically without figuratively touching, until the pianist reveals a cornucopia of high-pitched, tremolo patterns. Before the cascading piano chords turn too frenetic though, Mezei’s banjo-like licks join with the keyboard output until stops and plucks from two string sets are heard simultaneously.

Atonal and multiphonic enough to showcase the advanced techniques used by both players, Anzix’s improvised sequences also contain enough sonic humanity to make this session both sympathetic and stimulating.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Close Anzix 2. Anzix 3. Anzix From Far 4. Far Anzix 5. Anzix From Close 6. Too Close Anzix7. Anzix To Far 8. Far

Personnel: Szilárd Mezei (viola) and Michael Jefrey Stevens (piano)