Szilárd Mezei Túla Tiszán Innen Ensemble

Vajdasági masgyr népdalok/ Narodne pesme vojvodanskih Mdara
WMAS Records WNAScd 252/253

Folk music has over the centuries often nourished more so-called progressive sounds in Jazz as well as so-called Classical Music. Now as a way to honor the memory of folklorist Aniko Bodor (1941-2010), who collected hundreds of Hungarian folk songs from the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina, violist Szilárd Mezei, who also hails from that region, has created a notable two-CD set. Consisting of 15 compositions and arrangements based on melodies assembled by Bodor, Vajdasági masgyr népdalok/ Narodne pesme vojvodanskih Mdara confirms the adaptability of so-called folk material for free improvisation. Ironically the question remains as to whether some of the freest passages here are the result of Mezei’s talents, the skills of his soloists, many of whom have participated in the violist’s earlier projects for groups of different sizes, or are the result of sonic elements already present. After all the freedom inherited in the background of these melodies related to the everyday music of folks who inhabited the wide-open Magyar-oriented plains.

Ranging through varied compositional strategies and with 10 musicians upon which to call, Mezei’s overriding concern is the melding and matching of timbres. Ivan Burka’s vibraphone or marimba is frequently utilized in three fashions: harmonized with other instruments often strings or reeds; as an unrelenting ostinato unrolling beneath many of the sequences; and on its own with its ringing textures emphasizing certain musical points. Besides that, the layered passages pull back frequently to showcase thematic variations. “Ne félj kislány” for instance, is built around a repetative five-note motif that, when colored by reed slurping, catgut snaps and guitar-like string plinks plus chromatic pianism, suggests the influence these sorts of melodies may have had on Broadway and Tin Pan Alley composers.

The egg-and-chicken questions about improvisational influences also remain for tunes such as “Moholi” or “Fekete felhőből esik az eső”. Is what sounds like a boogie-woogie piano solo from Marina Džukljev related to the riffing fast-western style that was most popular in the 1930s or actually a Serbian-Hungarian motif? And what about the plunger cries from trombonist Branislav Aksin plus Ervin Malina’s walking bass line? Taken together they add up to a mainstream Jazz-like interface, even more than the horn smears on the previous tune. The end product is as bouncily exciting as anything heard at a Jazz Band ball, but which sounds influenced the others? An accomplished violist, whose slashing lines enliven many a track here, the same question arises during Mezei’s solos. Is this a Serbo-Hungarian variation on Jazz fiddle improvisations, a reaching into the European past given a modern overlay, or a combination of both?

Meanwhile when the massed strings harmonizes enough to nearly replicate a tremolo accordion, as they do on “Szépen esik az esó”, is the sylvan result enough to suggest a divorce from the currents of modern music? What about other pieces that include motifs that resemble folkloric wedding marches or the bravura escapades of peripatetic Roma fiddlers? Although these full-fledged exercises in faux-nostalgia appear only briefly should they be taken as an extension of the sessions’ conception or ways that gently mock it?

Luckily Mezei is a composer as well as an arranger and in this case, a celebrator, so authenticity and/or recreation shouldn’t really figure into appreciation for this set. Among the squirming and jumping themes throughout that allow for individual expression among the band members there are contiguous creations that stand out for compositional smarts, often by being multi-stylistic. “Csokái katonadal” for example relaxes a feeling of unabashed tension in its exposition with a harsh explosion of spiccato violin, bass clarinet slurps and trombone counter tones that add up to a sound mix more Middle Eastern than Magyar. In the same way, “Hamég egyszer legény lennék” alters its initial sneaky and snarky theme with enough vibe clatter, double bass pumps and shrill sax lines leading to a tutti coda to suggest soundtrack potential.

Mezei’s skills and ability to interact and lead various ensembles allows him to record and put out many discs. As a realization of some of his compositional ideas and homage to a respected folklorist this two-CD set is certainly one well worth investigating.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. A’ra alá az ég alja de szüke 2. Darumadár 3. Ne félj kislány 4. Csokái katonadal 5. Csokái betyánóta 6. Szépen esik az esó 7. Moholi CD2: 1. Komor fölöttem az ég is 2. Túl a Tiszán mandulaa virágzik 3. Hamég egyszer legény lennék 4. Esik ëso fúja, hordja 5. Amot legal hat pej csikó 6. Vőlgyesi hajnall éneck 7. Fekete felhőből esik az eső 8. Búra termő dő

Personnel: Branislav Aksin (trombone); Andrea Berendika (flute and alto flute); Bogdan Ranković (bass clarinet and alto saxophone); Tijana Stanković and Ákos Keszég (violin); Szilárd Mezei (viola); Marina Džukljev (piano); Ivan Burka (vibraphone and marimba); Ervin Malina (bass) and István Csík (drums)