Szilárd Mezei (And A Personal Digression On Magyarország)

An increasingly reinforced secret bond exists since childhood between your purple prose etcher and Hungary. As a matter of fact, to this day my darling cartoon is the fabulous Gusztáv, aka Gustavus, produced in the 60s by Hungarofilm and aired by RAI – our national television network – in the early 70s. Never heard of him? You have not lived yet: check some of the episodes on YouTube (admittedly, the animations could be a little too satirically sophisticated for those who grew up impersonating Marvel superheroes and the likes). The main theme and all the soundtracks – which used to include absurdist blasts of reeds and brass, warped utterances, manipulated tapes and even hints to free jazz – are part of my DNA. Honest. Imagine a Hungarian Spike Jones and you’ll get the picture. Then again, I’ve always been deeply intrigued by the written appearance of that language, which pronounced in Italian gives birth to very funny situations. Repeating the name of a border city called Tatabánya as a mantra when I was an insignificant slant-toothed kid constituted a favourite activity of mine for a while (OK, Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain and Come Out were already there). Ah, the mysteries of bizarre cerebral behaviour.
Anyway, let’s not drift off the point. A Serbian composer with rock-solid Magyar roots who has steadily amassed a sizeable quantity of noteworthy releases but is still relatively unsung, Mr. Mezei sent these four beauties (köszönöm szépen, Szilárd). Follow the links to find them, listen for yourselves, then send me a thankful note via email; there’s gorgeous music to be found herein. Uncompromising musicians who can actually play an instrument. Once upon a time they really existed – just like intelligent TV or, if so preferred, an alternative to a miserable humanity nourished by fake tits and equally counterfeit news.

SZILÁRD MEZEI – Mint Amikor Tavasz

Mint Amikor Tavasz, which means something like “As When The Spring”, is an outstanding collection of solos for viola and double bass, exploring a wide scope of techniques and moods. Perhaps the uppermost quality in Mezei’s improvising style is his facility in transforming a purely imaginative gesture into statements gifted with an inherent rational scheme, rendered even more intriguing by an innate ability of picking up quarter tones, small noises and ultra-piercing harmonics and synthesizing them in omni-comprehensive assertions. Erudition and freedom proceed in parallel outbursts, the sheer pleasure of listening to an awesomely good technique rewarding the concentration that must necessarily be employed for an extensive stretch of time (the CD lasts in fact over 76 minutes). Thematic designs whose constitution ranges from gently melancholic to totally excoriating, each piece living a life of its own without a bastardization of meanings, yet all part of a gratifying entirety. Hints to a forthright impulsiveness balanced by the attention to minuscule details, the whole giving the idea of a problematic transition to superior states of being that for sure will be reached, at last. The lingering suggestion is one of brightness, fleet-footed intensity and dramatic awareness at the basis of a splendid album which deserves repeated spins. (Not Two)

MEZEI SZILÁRD TRIO – A Kölyökkutya Reszketése

The title – extremely tricky to pronounce (for me, at least) – translates as “Trembling Of The Puppy”. A very poetic definition for a kind of music that, again, meshes dissimilar atmospheres and references, ranging from Hungarian folksong (the initial, splendid “Tánc – Rossz Asszony” and “Patak”, the latter’s mournful melody masterfully delivered in sensitive counterpoint by Mezei and Slovakian double bassist Ervin Malina) to swinging peculiarity bathed in a jazzy vibe (“Sün”). The appearance of some of these tracks is deceivingly sweet-toned, alluring to the point of letting us abandon our defensive stance. It’s there that the trio’s mental and propulsive dynamism – facilitated by Csík Istvan’s sensible drumming – stings when less expected, allowing Mezei’s preciseness and biting earnestness to exalt the undressed beauty of his phrasing in literal transliterations of different conditions of the mind, most of them apparently bordering on bitter sadness. The absolute lack of impertinence characterizing the CD is particularly evident in the tight-fisted soberness of the title track and in the subsequent “Bukluk”, whose recalcitrance to obey the common rules of jazz idiom results in a rather strident mix of implacable swing and slippery lanky dissonance. A difficult record that starts to remunerate only after a good number of attentive stabs. (Győrfree – Harmonia)

SZILÁRD MEZEI TRIO – Bármikor, Most / Anytime, Now

This is the most richly variegated CD in the pair of trio recordings examined here (the musicians are identical as in A Kölyökkutya Reszketése ), as demonstrated by the very first track “Induló”, based on an ear-catching riff that carries the weight of the whole tune for over six minutes. “Lynx” is designed as an atonal rhythmic exercise upon which Mezei plays a somewhat robotic pizzicato and Malina abates the percentage of uniformity through a cross of robust pluck and arco growl that sound mysterious and thought-provoking at one and the same time. “Most Nem” is pretty minimally structured as far as the basic pulse is concerned, and a vehicle for the protagonist to depict intoxicating Eastern figurations permeated by a regretful aura, which is usually what elevates his solos to states of grace infused with the sense of oppression seemingly deriving from daily struggles (and who knows what else). The lengthy “Hep 3” is a challenging combination of laborious metrical peregrinations (sure enough, István Csík is more than capable of managing a drum set when the going gets tough), angular phrases and antagonistic improvisation. Yet there’s still room for reflection, as shown by the skeletally charming theme and philosophically detached viola solo of “Te Beszélsz, Én Elalszok” (“You Speak, I Fall Asleep” – lovely title) The entire album is a fine exemplification of the proportionality between lack of bell-and-whistle trickery and abundance of meaningful insight that Mezei’s music constantly proposes. Consistently great stuff. (Not Two)


Extraordinary album of duets for viola and double bass that every serious appraiser of contemporary opuses for strings should try and secure a copy of. There’s just everything that needs to exist in such a kind of artistic report. The poignancy of the initial “Szépen Veri Az Eső A Virágot” is a well-visible building block amidst the rule-infringing incorruptibility demonstrated by these superb players throughout the program, with particular reference to the six episodes of the title track which alternates gypsy meditation and furious thunder-and-lightning improvisation of the finest cloth, the acme reached in the sixth chapter which is, plain and simple, a work of genius. The flummoxing amalgamations of instant outbreaks, hardly classifiable oscillating pitches and stern elucidations of pre-conceived themes (one on top of all, the heartrending elegy of “Huzatos Huzat”, which could represent an East-European paraphrasing of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”) finally fuses in the sort of profoundness that goes beyond the mere analysis of a piece or of the constitution of a timbre. Two great instrumentalists, unafraid of attempting the implausible and (merely hypothetically) tumbling, these men successfully point toward unsteady paths that not many people can expect to tread without hurting themselves or, at the very least, losing focus. However, don’t be intimidated by the difficulty of this unadulterated, irreproachable acoustic vision. Get influenced by the most striking specimen of dissonant poetry, magnificently tempered by the stirring finale “Szivaroztam, Elégettem A Számat” – another marvelous Hungarian folk tune replete with fractional-pitch painfulness. I find myself chuckling cynically, yet again, when pondering on the ignorance (and absolute lack of ear) of those impeded entities – self-proclaiming “musicians” – who still think that it only takes “seven notes” to create music. Will they ever shut up and learn, for once in a lifetime? (Győrfree)

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