Szilárd Mezei/Jon Hemmersam Duo

Floating Orange
SLAM 578

Szilárd Mezei/Nicola Guazzaloca

Lucca and Bologna Concerts

Amirani Records AMHN 050

Szilárd Mezei is so often noted for his compositions and arrangements for many sized ensembles that like Franz Liszt as pianist, his accomplishments as a violist are often overlooked. Yet in the right circumstances the Serbian musician can improvise as memorably as he can compose his seminal works. Choice of collaborators is crucial however. The violist appears perfectly in tune – in a semi-atonal fashion – with the aleatory pianism of Bologna native Nicola Guazzaloca, who has worked with other notable string players like bassist Barre Phillips and cellist Tristan Honsinger. Less striking is Mezei duet with Danish acoustic guitarist Jon Hemmersam, although the plectrumist arrives with the pedigree of having played with musicians as different as saxophonist David Liebman and percussionist Evelyn Glennie.

Arbitrarily it appears as the strumming strategy of Hemmersam orients not only his own playing but that of Mezei towards instant compositions that list towards the airy string band tradition rather than the aggressive and spikier runs associated with Jazz-like sounds. Like a prisoner with one leg manacled, when Mezei attempts to break away from this standardization with bent notes and sawing vibrations, as on the climatic “Floating Orange Suite, Part 3”, the guitarist’s plinking pulls him earthbound. It’s a mismatch of metronomic and animation. The situation rights itself in some manner in the second part of the concert when the violist switches to double bass. Propelling thickened, low pulsed slaps on “Deep” and “Floating”, Mezei’s challenge works Hemmersam up to staccato plucks and a touch of slurred fingering. Despite more efforts from both sides it appears as if the equivalent of broadcasting different programs from a congruent site ended with mixed messages here.

Moving from Novi Sad to the two Italian cities, Mezei’s interaction with Guazzaloca is more sympathetic because the pianist is first and foremost an improviser. It’s noticeable as early as “First Improvisation in Lucca”, where the inner piano pluck and viola spiccato lines move forward in caustic concordance before a celesta-pitched solo on the pianist’s part and kinetic buzzes from the violist establish their instruments’ separate identities. From that point on the Lucca tracks are a polyphonic morass of exploding and reactive timbres, with the key clipping and note cluster expansions from Guazzaloca evenly matched by harsh sweeps, slides and shimmies from Mezei. Including some mainstream allusions to so-called classical music and Jazz to keep the four-part suite upright, the two work up to a crescendo of splintered fiddle pulses and oscillating keyboard pressure. Reaching a climax with “Fourth Improvisation in Lucca” the summation finds both smacking the wooden parts of their instruments for additional energy. With notes almost literally bouncing off one another, heightened tension and subsequent relief add to the build up. Eventually as Guazzaloca rubs disassociated objects for added friction, Mezei preserves the theme with narrow whistling thrusts. The result is a squirming mass from which the only separation noticeable is equal fulfillment.

Recorded in the pianist’s home town almost one year later, and almost three after Floating Orange, the four-part Bologna improvisation is consistently more elevated. With string stops and slides, plus rhythmic chops and stops worked into the mix, connectivity is as prominent as virtuosity throughout. As the solo and accompanying roles shift from one to another, a series of high-wire-act-like thrills and chills comes into play. As Mezei stretches his timbres into multi-string coloration on “Second Improvisation in Bologna” for instance, Guazzaloca crafts comprehensive accompaniment, producing waterfalls of splattering notes for additional thrills. By the finale, after having demonstrated that they can together examine every timnbral cluster as fast and furious and slow and sensuously as they desire, the sweeping piano clusters and speedy viola shuffles meld into a rollicking display of cohesive power and elated partnership

Mezei’s instrumental smarts are evoked on these CDs. But their renown as improvisational milestones is determined by his choice of duo partners.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Floating: 1. Floating Orange Suite, Part 1 2. Floating Orange Suite, Part 2 3. Floating Orange Suite, Part 3 4. The River 5. Deep 6. Floating 7. Epilogue

Personnel: Floating: Jon Hemmersam (acoustic guitar) and Szilárd Mezei (viola and bass)

Track Listing: Lucca: Part 1 - Lucca Concert, Oratorio Degli Angeli 1. First Improvisation in Lucca 2. Second Improvisation in Lucca 3. Third Improvisation in Lucca 4. Fourth Improvisation in Lucca Part 2 - Bologna Concert, Teatro San Leonardo 5. First Improvisation in Bologna 6. Second Improvisation in Bologna 7. Third Improvisation in Bologna 8. Fourth Improvisation in Bologna

Personnel: Lucca: Nicola Guazzaloca (piano and objects) and Szilárd Mezei (viola)