Szilárd Mezei International Improvisers Ensemble

Karszt
SLAM CD 550

Following a recent series of small group CDs, Hungarian-Serbian violist Szilárd Mezei revisits large ensemble writing and arrangement with a two-CD set of compositions for a 23-piece band. Working in an idiom that draws on Jazz-inflected improvised music, reconstituted folklore and echoes of so-called classical music, Karszt’s main reference points are actually itself – or Mezei’s other music. More crucially though, when the exultant sounds produced here are examined, it’s clear that he has created one possible path for advanced 21st century composition.

Although the orchestra includes no less than nine players of chordal instruments plus seven woodwind or brass players, the most consistent interface depends on contrasts between the elastic percussion tones of marimba and vibraphone verses the soaring, unison voicing of various members of the flute family. Consistent with his comprehensive musical stance, although there are identified solos during the CD’s eight mostly extended tracks, not one is lengthy enough to define itself outside of the composition.

Clocking in at more than 56 minutes, “Hep 20” becomes the de facto definition of Mezei’s art. Encompassing motifs which morph from straight-laced processional to willowy melancholy to spidery and rhythmically balanced the narrative is, by necessity, taffy-like in its structure, able to be yanked and stretched every which way without breaking. Throughout distinctive tutti orchestral sections prolong the thematic rows, underscoring incursions and propel tones to the next juncture.

A climax of sorts is reached one-third of the way through as scrubbed bass lines and percussion pops give way to a profound Jazz interlude with saxophonists Péter Bede and Gergõ Kováts challenging one another, while flute peeps and trombone slurs color the background. Neo-classical string squeezes with near-baroque repetition, plus thickened percussion sputters keep the narrative balanced and stable until a much later incursion – this time from Ádám Meggyes’ hocketing trumpet and plunger slurs from trombonist Branislav Aksin and Jens Balder – combine to nearly wrench the program into prolonged, agitated multiphonics. Brightly voiced ensemble passages soon return thematic integrity, strengthened by bird-like flute chirps and resonating slaps from Ivan Burka’s marimba and Jelena Raskolvič’s vibraphone. Musical symmetry is maintained until the finale, as various instrumental groups and duos solo then retreat, most notably between one piccolo player and Béla Barany’s baritone sax. With eminent logic, the cumulative excitement-maintaining textures fading out following a sequence which could be from a fife-and-drum duo.

Other selections show off the breath and versatility of the ensemble in interpreting Mezei’s other compositions. Polish-born Frédéric Chopin would probably have been puzzled by the lack of keyboard flourishes on the violist’s “Chopin emlékére/In Memory of Chopin”. However the piece is able to stand on its own. If Máté Pozsár’s pianisms are relegated to comping or clanking, the sophistication of the other solos makes up for that. With bassist Joel Grip’s staccato rubs and percussion clip-clops setting the pace, Gergely Ittzés’ flat-line, almost unaccented flute pulses, Raskolvič’s slow-paced vibes and Burka’s similarly tempo-challenged marimba, plus soaring sax sequences from Bogdan Rankovič and Kováts, promote a spirited climax.

More distinctively Pozsár comes into his own on “Kéreg/Bark” where his dynamic outpourings on the keys bring forth memories of Cecil Taylor’s meetings with expanded bands. Balanced like many of the other tracks here on jittery metal bar smacks and chirping flute family expressions, multiple echoes enter the composition. Although the tenor saxophone solioists work themselves into throaty Archie Shepp-like growling at points with answering verbal cries, the compositional architecture depends just as much on quivery plucks from the string section plus distinctive mariachi-like brass toots.

Mezei once again demonstrates his skills as a composer and arranger during the almost 2½ hours of music here. Besides this high quality project, one would hope he has more chances to broaden his canvas in similar fashions in the future.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD 1: 1. Hep 20 2. Karszt CD 2: 1. Fák és bokrok sûrû lombjaitól/From Foliage of Trees and Shrubs 2. Macskák/Cats 3. Kéreg/Bark 4. Chopin emlékére/In Memory of Chopin 5. Hep 57 6. Jugoplastika

Personnel: Ádám Meggyes (trumpet); Branislav Aksin, Jens Balder (trombone); Laura Lévay-Aksin (flute, piccolo); Andrea Berendika (flute, alto flute, piccolo); Gergely Ittzés (flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo); Bogdan Rankovič (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone); Péter Bede (tenor and alto saxophones, tarogato); Gergõ Kováts (tenor and soprano saxophones); Béla Burány (baritone saxophone); Tijana Stnkovič (violin); Szilárd Mezei (viola); Máté Pozsár (piano); Jon Hemmersam (guitar); Albert Márkos (cello); Zoltán Csányi, Ervin Malina, Ernõ Hock, Joel Grip (bass); Ivan Burka (marimba); Jelena Raskolvič (vibraphone); Hunor G.Szaó, István Csík (drums, percussion)