Trió Kontraszt

From Dyonisian Sound Sparks to the Silence of Passing
BMC CD 247


Things Left at Ebb Tide

Hunnia Records & Film Production HRCD 1607

Can the real István Grencsó please stand up?

The Hungarian saxophonist, flutist and clarinetist has been one of the most recognizable figure in European Free Jazz since he started recording in 1979, and is best known for his years collaborating in various ensembles with pianist György Szabados (1939-2011), the acknowledged father of Hungary’s small avant-garde Jazz scene. Unlike many Magyar politicians of many political philosophies, Grencsó isn’t doctrinaire in his presentations though. In fact like comprehensive photographs of the same scene taken from two different angles, each of these CDs is exemplary because it frames different sides of Grencsó’s talents.

Things Left at Ebb Tide links up the reedist plus Szilveszter Miklós, the Hungarian-Slovenian drummer, who has been a member of the Grencsó collective since 2010, with two players who usually roam the notated area of Free sounds: pianist Barnabás Dukay, who is also a respected composer and pedagogue in Budapest and Tibor Szemző, who works in contemporary music ensembles and multi-media projects. The inverse of the experimental cast on the 11 tracks of the other CD, From Dyonisian Sound Sparks to the Silence of Passing, is more concerned with changes and swinging. Seven out its eight tracks were composed by Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer, a Serbian who moves easily between improvised and notated music and here plays piano, prepared piano, harmonium and keyboards, with the Trió Kontraszt – an apt name – filled out by Grencsó and Miklós.

Distinctively enough, it’s the harmonies produced by the double flutes of Grencsó and Szemző which produce the accordion bellows-like vibrations on tracks such as “Írott kő” in the first CD. Conversely, left alone, the blending of piano and tenor saxophone is moderated enough to suggest some of Stan Getz’s duets with Albert Dailey; while a piece like the final “Még soha sem láttalak” is almost recital ready with the dramatic calming expressed through Grencsó’s bass clarinet and Dukay’s piano. In other spots, Dukay’s pressurized plinking, strumming and stopping of his prepared piano strings figuratively echoes cimbalom-like passages which when mated with Grencsó’s bass clarinet lowing, produces theatrical Magyar-like themes.

Closer to aleatory dissertations are a trio of tracks that define the session’s centre: “Könnyedén emeld’, “Barlangzene” and “Apró partfutó-Hosszan”. The first maintains its frisky mood as Dukay slithers over the keys at the same time as Grencsó’s limber clarinet quacks lighten the mood. Bringing the piano’s action, damper and soundboard into the program, “Barlangzene” provides the phantasmagoric bottom tones upon which Grencsó’s and Szemző’s distinct flute tones tangle like feuding birds. Like the sober thriller that appear on the movie screen after the giddiness of color cartoons, “Apró partfutó- Hosszan” is the most pensive and mercurial of the three tunes, with the pianist walloping cadenzas from the keys with a heavyweight’s punch and the saxophonist extending the dynamics with thin honks and circular breathing.

Tickmayer’s multi-keyboard skills and compositions recalibrate the musical interaction on the other CD, even though Grencsó and Miklós function in a similar fashion as they do in their meeting with Dukay and Szemzö. In fact the only track which approaches the dour seriousness of the other CD is the aptly titled “Dirge”. Death-march-like drumming underscores straining breaths from the saxophone and morosely paced organ pressure, with the climax the sudden integration of harmonized piano and clarinet timbres. Otherwise the tracks range from “Your Beauty behind the Veil” which fairly drips with Baltic romanticism and passion to other such as “Hesitated”, which appear as if they’re built up from a nursery-rhyme structure. The sophisticated dynamics which mark that tune and others however confirm that the approach is anything but child-like. Keyboard crunches, clunking drum beats and growling sax remind you of the coarseness that underlies child’s play.

Tickmayer’s keyboard ambidexterity is on display throughout as he moves from one instrument to another with equal suppleness. The forward motion that marks “Memorial”, for instance, may be sombre but it also serves as a showcase. Clean reed blowing and percussion rattles are seconded by harpsichord-like resonations from prepared piano, which return in a more irregular fashion to restate the theme nearly buried by a mid-section in which Tickmayer’s flashy organ attack is more reminiscent of Keith Emerson than any Jazz or so-called classical antecedents. On the other hand, the foot-tapper that is “De Ira” relates to classic swing with bent piano notes matched with rugged drum back beats and a reed tone from Grencsó that that would be funky enough to get him American roadhouse work. Demonstrating that all three are musical quick-change artists, the piece concludes with Grencsó scrubbing his tone clean as Tickmayer’s keyboard smacks soften so that he’s propelling a pliable chord structure during the penultimate moments, leading to a finale that’s as quiet and pastoral as the introductory sequence was loud and funky.

Like a mercurial statesman who can project different concepts to different audiences, Grencsó shows he can adapt and play to the same high standard no matter the situation. Personal musical preferences could dictate which CD is more appealing. Maybe both should be sampled.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Things: 1. Az építményeken 2. Írott kő 3. Csipetnyi só 4. Várni visszafolytottan 5. Valamihez mérten 6. Holdárnyékban (Homage To Yusef Lateef) 7. Könnyedén emeld 8. Barlangzene 9. Apró partfutó-Hosszan 10. Lassan kúszó árnyak meszelt ház falán 11. Még soha sem láttalak

Personnel: Things: István Grencsó (tenor, alto, soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, flute); Tibor Szemző (piccolo, flute, bass flute); Barnabás Dukay (piano) and Szilveszter Miklós (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: From: 1. Hesitated 2. Quasi da lontano 3. De Ira 4. Memorial 5. Dirge 6. Passamezzo ongaro per trio 7. Zeno's Aporia 8. Your Beauty behind the Veil

Personnel: From: István Grencsó (tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, flute); Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer (piano, prepared piano, harmonium and keyboards) and Szilveszter Miklós (drums and percussion)