Gresnscó Open Collective

Derengé/Dawn
SLAM CD 565/Hunnia Records HR CD 1508

By Ken Waxman

Although he recorded with master improvisers like Roscoe Mitchell, Joëlle Léandre and Anthony Braxton, pianist/composer György Szabados, who died at 71 this month in 2011, was little known outside of Hungary. Yet his influence loomed over that country’s post-war music as much as the spectre of communism, described in The Communist Manifesto haunted Europe. Like the AACM’s Muhal Richard Abrams, Szabados organized workshops where musicians absorbed his mixture of improvisation, jazz and notated music, spiced paprika-like with a dash of ethnic sounds.

Unlike Abrams though, Szabados’ opportunities were limited by his government’s Stalinesque distrust of free music. That’s one reason why Derengé/Dawn is so valuable. Almost the equivalent of a samizdat novel given mass publication, the two CDs provide expanded performances of six Szabados compositions. Budapest-based reedist István Grencsó, a member of the composer’s ensembles from 1984-2007 galvanizes the project, while Serbian-Hungarian violist Szilárd Mezei, who played with Szabados from 2003-2009 adds his distinctive string bending to four tracks.

Grencsó emphasizes the jazz/improv qualities of Szabados’ work by building on the textures from his group’s rhythm section of pianist Máté Pozsár, bassist Róbert Benkö and percussionist Szilveszter Miklós. Playing as a quartet the Open Collective performs an act comparable to cleaning a painting to highlight new vibrancy. Touched with strands of Magyar romanticism, Pozsár glides along the keys when not relying on the pedals to judder percussively alongside Benkö’s unvarying pace. Grencsó’s nasal soprano saxophone split tones, sardonic alto saxophone digs or bass clarinet growls mock overwrought Arcadian sentiments, while adding requisite (free) jazz affiliations on a track like “Adyton”. In quintet formation on “Azesküvö/The Wedding” and “Fohsáz/Supplication”, the sharp pulse is maintained. Yet frequently Miklós’ cymbals toll as if emanating from the belfry of Budapest’s St. Stephen's Basilica to appropriately balance the Roma-like flightiness expressed in Mezei’s viola glissandi. Szabados’ tension between sonic light and darkness is without humor. The faux-vaudeville overlay of the concluding “Regölés/Minstrelsy” could accompany clown’s pratfalls after the performance is joined by three additional horn players.

Enhancing certain colors in his compositions as if they’re an art restoration team these players honor Szabados’ work by giving it a contemporary sheen as well as daubing individual brush strokes onto his canvas.

Track Listing: CD 1: Azesküvö/The Wedding*; Fohsáz/Supplication*; Adyton*^

CD 2: Ajánlás; Asszonyainknak/Commendation to our Women; Halott-Táncoltatás/Dance of Reanimation; Regölés/Minstrelsky*^+

Personnel: Ádám Meggtes: trumpet, pipe^ ; István Grencsó : soprano, tenor saxophones, bass claruhet, pipe; Ábel Fazekas: clarinet, pipe+; Gergö Kovás: baritione saxophone, pipe+; Szilárd Mezei: viola*; Máté Pozsár: Piano; Róbert Benkö : bass; Szilveszter Miklós: drums, percussion

—For The New York City Jazz Record July 2016