March 26, 2012
Szilárd Mezei Wind Quartet
Ayler Records AYLCD-122
Leo Records CD LR 614
Red Toucan RT 9341
Hungarian-Serbia’s gift to the music world, improvising violist/composer Szilárd Mezei is hard to pin down since he regularly plays in contexts ranging from duos to large bands. These discs, recorded between April and December of 2010 for instance, find him involved with reed players of different predilections, procedures and preferences.
There’s a pronounced Free Music vibe on Underflow and In Just, for instance, where Mezei functions as part of a trio or quartet playing a series of instant compositions. Innen, on the other hand, consists of seven compositions by the violist. Yet, while the CD relates to his other excursions into ethnic Hungarian folk music, the improv bona fides of his horn players – all of whom have been associated with him for years – help move the session out of the realm of cutesy, folkloric replications.
By the same token tubaist Kornél Pápista is the real workhorse here. With his stentorian blasts and supple pedal-point continuum, he fills the percussive role that both bassist and drummer would in other circumstances. Nonetheless, more pronounced Roma/oomph-pah-pah references come to the fore from time to time as Pápista’s slurs are joined by plunger work from trombonist Branislav Aksin, while Mezei skitters irregular textures from his viola. Perhaps because of his instrument’s history, alto saxophonist Bogdan Ranković provides the most Jazz-oriented lines here, double tonguing and stuttering. When playing clarinet and bass clarinet however, Ranković’s textures are respectively lyrical or connective.
Emotionalism is emphasized on the title track, which features a capriccio-like theme deconstructed by the composer’s slithering spiccato, as brass instruments provide the continuum. With Pápista as close to replicating a double bass walk as is possible on a brass instrument, Ranković provides trills, juddering glissandi and reed bites. The finale is made up of a fulfilled outpouring of shaking and whistling strings plus stop-time brays from the brass.
Four-part instrumental narratives which encompass as much pitch-sliding extended techniques as Eastern-European terpsichorean echoes reach their climax on “Hep 15 R”. With the tune nearly minimalist and decidedly relaxed, high-pitched and glottal glissandi from Ranković’s clarinet abut smooth string stretches from the violist and trombone grace notes, with Pápista’s pedal-point lines keeping the interlude a satisfying group interaction.
Pápista’s yeoman work isn’t needed on In Just since an almost-conventional rhythm section is present. Almost conventional that is, since the cello of Hungarian Albert Markos’ takes the low-pitch string part. It was Markos’ dynamic inventions at their first meeting nearly 15 years previously which encouraged veteran German percussionist Martin Blume to form this quartet. Markos brought along Mezei, with whom he regularly works in many other ensembles, and the drummer, Berlin-based reedist Frank Gratkowski, who has played alongside Blume for 20 years in groups such as Shift. Now a working group, this CD, recorded at Köln’s Loft, preserves DuH’s first live gig.
The newly constituted quartet tests out all sorts of strategies including double-stopping and snapping sprawls from the string players; rolls, ruffs and simple smacks from Blume; and everything from legato puffs to lip kisses from Gratkowski. But the band interaction shines most brightly when its members have more space as on the extended title track and “Goat-Footed”. On that final piece, staccato strings quiver, Gratkowski forces altissimo sneers from his clarinet, while Blum rubs his drum tops and smacks his rims while creating steel pan-like echoes. Markos’ and Mezei’s string actions split into legato pressures from the cellist and downward angling from the violist. Eventually the string intersection pulls away, leaving bass clarinet blows to define and complete the piece.
As for the title tune, it`s vigor highlights how quickly four improvisers can come together without common Jazz-like tropes. If anything it’s Blume’s soft brush strokes which tame sul ponticello and staccato openness from the strings plus the reedist’s multiphonics so to conflate the output into a connective ostinato.
More aleatoric moments occur on Underflow as Mezei has to make a place for himself within the framework of an established musical duo. British-born alto saxophonist Tim Trevor-Briscoe and Italian pianist Nicola Guazzaloca have a long association both as instructors at Bologna’s Ivan Illich Popular School of Music and as part of an assortment of bands in that city. Like DuH, this trio was organized to play festivals, until the three realized they should document the program. With no percussion-oriented instruments as anchors however, the majority of the six live and studio-recorded tracks are concerned with timbre stretches and polytonal surprises.
“Too Far From the Yew Tree” for instance, outlines the basic strategy. With chordal architecture moving from Trevor-Briscoe’s double-tongued honks and duck calls to Guazzaloca’s discursive angled plucks, Mezei’s single-string pops and spiccato runs assert themselves with staccato inventions apparent as well. Further interaction in the form of extended sul ponticello lines from the fiddler, strums and mallet slaps on the strings of Guazzaloca’s piano and the saxophonist’s sky-high tremolo squeals eventually lead to a spectacular finale.
An arrangement of shuffles, glissandi and slurs are pumped out during the remaining performances until the interaction reaches a crescendo during a live performance at Ivan Illich. Titled “The Groaner”, the piece is dramatically enlivened with straining, stopping and sawing from the fiddler, processional pounding from the pianist and saxophone obbligatos. As the performance hardens with sprawling string scrubs and near-manic reed bites, it’s the pianist who brings measured contrariness to the proceedings with key clips. Preceding the coda of Mezei outlining intense, a capella string sprawls, Guazzaloca’s pedal pressure anchors the performance.
Satisfying portraits of Mezei’s work during one particular year, all three discs offer noteworthy sounds to savor, especially for those who have long followed his career. Ranking them suggests that as a performer, the violist does his best work with strong, percussive oriented associates such as Blume; while his prodigious compositions reveal more nuances when performed by large ensembles.
in: 1. in Just 2. Spring 3. Balloonman 4. Mud-luscious 5. Hop-scotch 6. Jump-rope 7. Far and Wee 8. Goat-footed
Personnel: in: Frank Gratkowski (alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet); Szilárd Mezei (viola); Albert Markos (cello) and Martin Blume (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: Underflow: 1. Shoe Crabbing 2. Too Far From the Yew Tree 3. Pergangelus 4. Dog Flow (live) 5. The Groaner (live) 6. Fairgrind (live)
Personnel: Underflow: Tim Trevor-Briscoe (alto saxophone and clarinet); Szilárd Mezei (viola) and Nicola Guazzaloca (piano)
Track Listing: Innen: 1. The Impossible Variations of Solutions 3. From Here 4. Big Cat 5. Trio Improvisation 6. Hep 15 K 7. Hep 15 R 8. Old Dance
Personnel: Innen: Branislav Aksin (trombone); Kornél Pápista (tuba); Bogdan Ranković (alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet) and Szilárd Mezei (viola)