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Saturday, February 29, 2020

Szilárd Mezei - Sleeping Time/Before Noon (Klopotec, 2019) ****½

Part 1 of 2

By Nick Metzger

Szilárd Mezei's double album "Sleeping Time/Before Noon" compiles its material from several live solo performances given by the multi-instrumentalist and composer, with the dates on “Sleeping Time” set between 2010 to 2017 and the entirety of “Before Noon” arising from a recital in Novi Sad in 2014. The extended time period over which the collection spans serves as an integral of his methods and techniques, revealing an artist as intent on pushing the limits of his instruments as he is in reveling in their roots and traditional characteristics. His playing throughout is completely free and provides a stark contrast to the more composed work for ensembles that we’ve covered on the blog recently.

"Sleeping Time (West)" and "Sleeping Time (North)" both begin abruptly with intense, high velocity bowing that for me conjure thoughts of Braxton's "For Composer John Cage" with its gruff and inarticulate fever. Both quickly settle into more lamentive, lyrical playing. The recording of "Sleeping Time (West)" in particular does a nice job capturing the ambience of the concert, with Mezei even receiving some brief canine accompaniment. The tracks continue with fluid, melodious passages that are interspersed with broad dynamics. Lines of wiry multiphonic scrape are inundated with short, tasteful pizzicato flourishes and deft runs. "Eppen akkor" and "Eppen az" both find Mezei commanding the double bass to great effect, as the sequencing provides a good contrast with the viola pieces. These tracks range from pointillistic, dance-like pizzicato to a rough arco that rumbles and groans like the hull of some great wooden ship. On "Olany" Mezei returns to his viola with a more varied approach. There are longer strokes of melodious playing infused with muted string pops and jagged, hissing bow work.

The second half of the album is initiated with the expressionist stylings of "Delelott" on which Mezei plays heavily with timbre, dynamics, and rhythm. In contrast "Kikerics" is shorter and more linear, finding Mezei pulling off gorgeous runs of melody in concise, effective lines. "Fecskek voltak" elaborates on this lyricality while also delving into sweeter territory, finding Mezei lengthening his stroke and broadening his vibrato. His use of chords and drones are employed to great effect. On "(rajz - letra)" Mezei pulls sharp pointillistic textures from his viola, the softness of the dynamics belies the intensity of his playing. "(rajz - maszk1)" is a roughly 30 second statement that runs directly into its sister piece "(rajz - maszk2)", both are brisk and to the point, with Mezei ripping thin jagged figures from his viola before returning to the bass fiddle for the last quarter of the album. On "Walking Bus", he stows abstract rhythms beneath thumping, percussive lines and concludes the piece with an expressive arco. "Auto Moto" dispenses a variety of cadenced lines, some of which parallel traditional jazz basslines. On "Ami titok" his bow work is broad and expressive, using beautiful airs and tonal contrasts to hypnotize the listener. "Ima" is colored by its dynamics, ranging from silence (or near-silence) to haughty pulls of low register groans, closing as a whimper. On the final piece "(rajz - 3alak)" the bass is worked over in a manner similar to the viola tracks sharing it's surname, closing the album in shades of frost and bramble.

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