Grencsȯ Collective Special 5 with Ken Vandermark

Do Not Slam the Door
BMC CD 271

Still committed to the freedom implicit in unbridled improvisation in spite of the retrogressive populism politicians like Viktor Orbán promote in Hungary, is multi-reedist István Grencsó. A long-time Hungarian Free Jazz standard bearer first associated with pianist György Szabados, he’s collaborated with local sound experimenters plus open-minded Europeans like clarinetist Rudi Mahall and violist Szilárd Mezei. American tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Vandermark is his most recent foil, and this significant CD confirms that the Chicago-Budapest affiliation is much more flavorful than a Hungarian goulash made with marbled Chicago beef could be.

With compositions divided among Grencsó, who plays tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet and flute, Vandemark, and other band members, the sextet creates a well-balanced program of transformative Jazz. Sympathetically affiliated are the usual members of the Grencsȯ Collective: pianist Stevan Kovács Tickmayer, who also uses electronics, bassist Róbert Benkő, drummer Szilveszter Miklós, with the personnel expanded with local bassist/bass guitarist Ernő Hock. Passing over a few shorter tracks, intermezzos for different instruments, showing how they can be harmonized or pushed to their limits, the meat of th4er session lies in the extended pieces.

Eclectic, they range from some that could have jumped from Eric Dolphy or Archie Shepp New Thing LPs of the 1960s (Vandcermark’s “Curtain”); to particular showcases like Grencsȯ’s “Hymn for a Birthday”, which adds a wide Earl Bostic-like alto saxophone solo to a tune that could have been recorded in 1950s Cool Jazz’s heyday; to Miklós’ selfless feature for Tickmayer and the bassists – all stopped piano strings and keyboard clipping plus double bass string buzzes and swells (“Only You Can Hear It…”). Often invested with stop-time rhythms, methodological keyboard clusters, segmented percussion strategies and reed solos that encompass blowsy excess or staccato snarls, the sounds on Do Not Slam the Door are thoroughly (post) modern by synthesizing influences into a singular overview.

Particular instances of this are Vandermark’s “Running Fence”, which may be jibe at the Fidesz party’s anti-immigrant policies; and the concluding “Let Thy Will Be Done” composed by Grencsȯ, With fierce washes from Tickmayer’s electronics and clattering drum sticks on the former, a Suspense Film-like theme is advanced by dual clarinet squeezed shrills that evolve to coloratura vibrations and finally connect to low-pitched double bass reverb. More sanguine, but also more minimalist, “Let Thy Will Be Done” takes its direction from restrained piano stops as harmonized reed vibrations create a nearly unbroken, polyphonic summation that’s un-Hungarian in its positivity.

Hungary hopefully will soon transcend its xenophobic drift. At least musicians and albums like this demonstrate that free expression still has a place in that country.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Do: 1. Parallel Phenomenon 2. Do Not Slam The Door! 3. Bunch 4. Curtain 5. Only You Can Hear It… 6. Hymn for a Birthday 7. Running Fence 8. It Is Darkening 9. And Then, Whatever Happens Will Happen... 10. Let Thy Will Be Done

Personnel: Do: István Grencsó (tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet, flute); Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Stevan Kovács Tickmayer (piano, electronics); Róbert Benkő (bass); Ernő Hock (bass, bass guitar); Szilveszter Miklós (drums)