Viktor Tóth Arura Trio

Szemed kincse/The present

Like a Bengal tiger who has taken on the personality of a house cat, Budapest-based alto saxophonist Viktor Tóth apparently defines The Present as a way to show another side of his personality. Tóth, who in the past has recorded with tough boundary stretchers such as American drummer Hamid Drake and Belgian trumpeter Bart Maris, casts aside the exploratory side of his playing here for nine tracks that skirt very close to boudoir Jazz territory.

As sleek and passionate as a teenager’s first crush, the saxophonist appears to have moved into the unthreatening territory of relaxing sounds usually titled with the sobriquet of So-and-So Plays for Lovers. The Antecedents for such a program are as elevated as Gene Ammons’ “Angel Eyes” and as paltry as Sam “The Man” Taylor’s “Misty”. Luckily Tóth follows a middle course. Rather than trying to squeeze more emotion out of frequently recorded standards, all the tunes here are his originals. Plus besides help in the rhythmic bottom he gets from double bassist György Orbán, also part of his working trio, what would be the chordal role in other situations is taken by the cimbalom of Miklós Lukács. Lukács, whose command of the multi-string hammered dulcimer has meant that he has worked with everyone from symphony orchestras to folk ensembles to the Jazz groups of Mihály Dresch, brings needed spaciousness and freedom to the tracks. Like a one-man-band demonstrating his skills at a too serious party, Lukács is able to make his Hungarian trapezoid board zither pose as George Shearing’s piano, Milt Jackson’s vibes or Jim Hall’s guitar at intervals. All three stylists were experts at this sort of balladic style and Lukács joins stellar company.

On the downside however, the majority of Tóth’s tunes range from pleasant to puerile. Often playing with a vibrato so wide that the result goes past Ben Webster breathiness to Rudy Wiedoeft-like novelty, the glissandi appear more decorative than comprehensive. Furthermore many of the themes appear as interchangeable as McDonald’s golden arches signs. Tóth does present altissimo torque and a series of empathetic cadenzas on “Brilliant Steps” – which however will never be mistaken for either “Brilliant Corners” or “Giant Steps”.

Most impressive performances are “I’m Waiting for You” and “Remember the Hat Seller”. The former finds Tóth and Lukács fruitfully playing off one another’s lines like Paul Desmond’s meetings with guitarist Hall. The latter is a pseudo-tango where Orbán’s hearty pumps allow the cimbalomist to alternately solo with the finesse of a Jackson and the facility of a Shearing. Imagine an inebriated Hungarian folk dance in the middle of a flamenco recital to get an idea of its power.

No musician can be faulted for trying something different – Tóth included. But why create this nearly retrogressive disc at this time when he appeared to be loosening up his style in former outings remains a mystery.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Joy 2. First & Second 3. Ballad of Bertalan Barta 4. Brilliant Steps 5. The Cat and the Moon 6. I’m Waiting for You 7. Remember the Hat Seller 8.Music of the Late Night 9. Emanation

Personnel: Viktor Tóth (alto saxophone); Miklós Lukács (cimbalom) and György Orbán (bass)