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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A lazy afternoon with Szilárd Mezei, a newspaper, and a wandering spirit.

Szilárd Mezei Szabad Quintet - Singing Elephant (Not Two Records) 2012 ***½

By Philip Coombs

With a free afternoon and a relatively clear head, I had the time and wherewithal to let my mind wander for a bit. I digressed to a solo trip I took to Hungary when I was much younger. I remember the food and the friendly locals, the opera and the great gypsy music everywhere but especially a violin trio playing on a bridge overlooking the Danube river. I went to my music collection to find something to accompany these fond memories. I soon realized that I still had two unheard Szilárd Mezei recordings. Perfect. I started with the "Singing Elephant" recording by his Szabad Quintet.

This is a very diverse recording with some straight ahead jazz moments, some folk music that Mezei's viola adds to perfectly, and a few tracks that will leave you scratching your head. 'Leopard' comes at you in a series of punctuations as if the group were counting the cat's spots. Over time they separate and soon you are wrapped up in their cat and mouse game before everything catches to itself again.
Hunor G. Szabo (drums) and Emo Hock (bass) start 'Beautiful Lilly's Sorrow' at a breakneck pace and maintain it as the backbeat and pulse for Mezei (viola), Péter Bede (tenor sax) and Adam Meggyes (trumpet, cornet) to play some beautifully tortured notes over. The subtle beauty of '1 Piper in 5 Inn' make it a superb star attraction of the show. The band are precise and controlled like they are creeping around you waiting for the perfect moment to add sound. Mezei's viola manages to keep everything organic and grounded, his sound perfectly suited to this style. Beautifully timed and executed. I needed to get out and wander for a bit.

Szilárd Mezei Vocal Ensemble - Fújj szél, Zenta, visshangozz szél (Not Two,  2012) ****

I got the urge to go out and buy a newspaper to see what was going on in the world around me without having to resort to turning on any form of electronics. I wanted to find an independent seller because somehow in my head I am supporting some form of underground selling truth to the masses. One thing is for sure, if Kinga Mezei (vocals) is selling the truth, I am buying.

He voice is a cross between Nico and Marianne Faithfull in terms of power, conviction and style. She is compelling in a storytelling but crushing kind of way like a revolutionary and/or a goddess. Unfortunately, I have no idea what she is singing about.

Everything about this ensemble has an air of a rainy back road where people gather to talk about how good it once was. That is until the track 'Rëza' where the optimism flood gates open up and pure joy radiates from her voice and the band.

Szilárd Mezei is in control of a very large group here consisting of; Kinga Mezei (vocals), Ervin Malina (bass), Kornél Pápista (tuba), Milan Aleksić (piano), Branislav Aksin (trombone), Béla Burány (baritone, soprano saxes), Péter Bede (tenor sax, clarinet), Bogdan Ranković (alto sax, bass clarinet), Szilárd Mezei (viola) and István Csík (drums).

For those of you who are not big fans of vocalists in their music, Kinga Mezei essentially bookends the tracks allowing the rest of the players take over to expand their themes in the middle which is no easy task considering this is a live recording, and an album that explores gypsy folk, art house soundtracks, and a healthy dose of exploratory jazz. Very compelling and captivating music.
I did find the newspaper seller with his enterprise set up on the steps of the train station. I have him a note, nodded my head and told him to keep the change and fought the use to step on the train to anywhere.

Both recordings can be purchased from Not Two Records or downloaded from eMusic.

© stef