RT 9335 (2008)
Szilard Mezei Ensemble
1. Circle Saw 15:05
Rec. 18 & 19. February 2006., RTV, Novi Sad, Serbia.
Inexorably, the name of this composer - a Hungarian who was born in Serbia - is becoming increasingly visible on the up-to-the-minute jazz scene and, from what I've heard, deservedly so. Mezei is able to achieve a complex stability of influences in the material he pens, which is strongly rooted in the popular traditions of the geographic areas he grew in. Fronting a large band (14 elements including himself) in this occasion, the violist fortifies a quest for authenticity which is perceptible in every instant. Music made of familiarities, furtive crossing of borders and rankling wounds, in which the orchestration constitutes a fundamental terrain for the growth of floriferous melodic plants. Dissonant themes and folk reminiscences interlock in a context where nothing sounds passé, yet one clearly feels the weight of earlier periods that will never be forgotten. Ample spaces of theoretical chaos (often generated by the out-of-phase superimposition of precisely written parts) make sure that the collective endeavour is rewarded by a multitude of energies working without loss of concentration, renewing the intention of bringing the composition to the level of "inspired suffering" typical of the acceptance of an unavoidable fate. The many directions towards which the score pushes are not mystifying, otherwise representing a metaphor for independence, the one that's desperately longed for and is still reachable within. The mission is problematically thorny, but it can be done.
Massimo Ricci - Touching Extremes
The small Montreal-based Red Toucan label continues its unstated mission of providing a spotlight on the less exposed gems of the jazz world. This particular offering is part of a trilogy by Serbian-born Hungarian violist / composer Szilárd Mezei (the other parts, Whistle and Drum, have yet to be recorded). The music blends folk melodies, contemporary classical and African-American traditions into an intriguing whole, and has something of a film noir tinge to it, although Mezei insists that he doesn't think of such analogies when composing. The five longish compositions for 14-piece ensemble are heavily notated, though "Hep 1" and "Hep 2" have a deceptively improvisational feel. On "Hep 1" the group plays deliberately out-of-sync, hinting at rather than definitively stating the main melody, while "Hep 2"'s Braxtonish theme opens up ample solo space for saxophonist Bogdan Rankovic and trumpeter Slobodan Dragaš. "Cirkula/Circle Saw", "Esölovak/Rain Horses" and "Fohász/Petition" are more ponderous, offering dour Balkan melodies underpinned by tuba, bass, two cellos, trombone, piano and two drummers, and at times the music virtually bludgeons the listener. Fortunately, "Rain Horses" offers some relief; Mezei plays an impassioned viola solo, and a tinkling vibraphone/xylophone interlude by Ivan Burka lightens the mood before Dragaš's nimble Lester Bowie-like trumpet (Great Hungarian Music: Ancient to the Future?) heralds a return to the somber anthem. "Petition" is powerfully emotional, with pianist Milan Aleksic percussively shredding the melody before the piece ends with an optimistic coda. The recording could be crisper in the higher ranges, but that's a minor complaint; this is an intriguing showcase for unsung talent from an underappreciated area. S.G.
Stephen Griffith - Paris Transatlantic Magazine
Szilard Mezei calls his music contemporary improvised music—a term that has often been used and abused, showing how music can either be transformed by imagination or lack thereof. The impact is in direct proportion to the skill of the musicians, which is why listening to the Szilard Mezei Ensemble is such a singular experience. The 14-piece band is a revelation, as comfortable in composed work as it is on the expanse of freedom.
The Hungarian Mezei was born in Senta, Serbia. In addition to the viola played on Nad/Reed, he also plays violin and double-bass, and has been a member of several conglomerations ranging from two to nine members. For his own projects he has assembled trios, quartets, quintets and, for this album, a big band. In the final analysis, however, it's the music that counts.
Mezei balances composition and improvisation deftly. He melds jazz, folk and classical music and, in the midst of doing so, opens the windows for his musicians to fly into the land of adventure, with each movement turning out to be a revelation.
The Ensemble plays with a cohesive voice, lending the initial structure to "Corkula/Circular Saw." The linearity dissolves into undulating lines and from then on, the course is unpredictable. At one moment the reeds are blazing and cutting an incendiary swath, at the next the flute is dancing on a light melody. Mezei's juxtapositions are remarkable as the horns explode before setting out to march in tandem. In a delightful turn, Slobodan Dragas (trumpet) goes the New Orleans route and Bogdan Rankovic (alto sax) swings with melodic grace before drawing Mezei into the crux.
A fanfare heralds "Fohasz/Petition." The classical theme sits in the middle, warm and tender, even as the drums and percussion rumble around and, when the horns raise their voice in a hosanna, the move beckons a swirling tide. The arrangement is open, accommodating the several voices perfectly. Rankovic plays the melody with a pure, open tone before digging deep and taking his alto into a curve, allowing pianist Milan Aleksic to make some dynamic statements as he weaves jazz and classical harmonies.
The music is stately and invigorating and never ceases to thrill. Mezei has fashioned a multi-dimensional and absorbing piece of art.
Jerry D'Souza All About Jazz
Pointless arguments over where the geographical heart of the music lies these days are rendered only more so by music like that on Nad / Reed by the Szilard Mezei Ensemble. Coming as it does from Hungary, and with a burst of creativity, it's definitively human and thus not the product of any national—or indeed continental—sensibility.
That said, it's rife with elements that stem from a national culture even while it's alive with a dignity that transcends it. Thus the shifting sands of the opening "Cirkula/Circle Saw" set out a stall rich in diversity and nuance, which at times borders on the comedic in a way not dissimilar to Willem Breuker's Kollektief. Free play and composition co-exist quite happily, and the radical shifts of the latter happily don't make for discontinuity. Instead, the piece as a whole seems to exist as such by mutual agreement. Svetlana Novakovic's flute is notable in solo terms as she seems intent on threading delicate lines both against and through a tempestuous backdrop.
"Esolovak / Rain Horses," in its opening, is alive with color. As this is set against a heavy undercurrent, it's only more notable, with the presence of two drummers contributing in no small part to that. In solo, Bogdan Rankovic's alto sax has about it a dry but not acerbic quality, the notes seeming to curdle slightly before emerging from the bell of the horn. He seems, on this one also, to be in thrall to some folk melody even while he strains against its limits. The resulting tension remains tantalizingly unresolved, even when the leader takes up the solo duties on viola.
The polyphony of "Hep 1" and "Hep 2" is evocative of nothing save this group's collective ideal, and Rankovic the soloist comes into his own again on the latter. He brings his arguably "correct" technique to bear upon material that resolves with aplomb any dilemma there might be between collective endeavor and individual expression.
The foreboding of "Fohasz/Petition" closes the program out in a fashion hardly obvious from what has preceded it, but this is only indicative of beautifully realized music. Again, the potentially precarious balance between ensemble and soloist is struck without a care, and the resulting accomplishment enhances the proceedings to no end.
Nick Jones All About Jazz
This is the third disc from the incredible Szilard Mezei Ensemble, after two gems on Leo. The first was a quintet, the second disc featured an octet and now this disc features a fabulous 14-piece ensemble with reeds, brass, strings, piano, bass, percussion and two drummers. The large ensemble is Hungarian and some/much of their music draws from Hungarian folk melodies with a wealth of other influences involved. Mr. Mezei is the main composer here, but there is great deal of improvisation as well. This disc consists of five long pieces. "Circle Saw" is first and does have a circular repeating theme. The music is kaleidoscopic, while the rhythm team swirls in circles, the horns and strings solo around one another tightly but freely, getting freer until the main theme reappears once more. "Rain Horses" has a compelling theme that is played by the oboe, flute and bass clarinet, while the rhythm team spins below. Alto saxist, Bodgian Rankovic, is often the player that stands out the most as well as their fine pianist, Milan Aleksic. The ensemble often erupts in waves while certain musicians take short solos on top, especially a fine flute solo from Svetlana Novakovic. Trombonist, Branislav Aksin, kicks off "Hep 1," a free yet focused piece that unfolds slowly with just a few instruments at a time, the oboe and percussion following each other around. Although "Hep 1" is mainly uncharted, they feel as if there is an undercurrent plan that is being directed. I dig the way "Hep 2" has various themes running simultaneously, all spinning at the same time, all interconnected. One of the highlights here is the oboe-led horn harmonies pop uo time and again, in between some short yet inspired solos. The final piece, "Petition" is just incredible: solos like the viola (from Szilard Mezei) emerge from the waves, the theme itself is Braxton-like and not distant from his 'Ghost Trance Music' series. It is great to hear some fascinating music from a Hungarian small orchestra on a Quebec-based label like Red Toucan. - BLG
A chance meeting in Victoriaville led to discovering this extraordinary ensemble, led by Szilárd Mezei, 34, a viola player of Hungarian origin from multiethnic Voyvodina in Serbia. The music is a mélange of Bartok, Ellington and Braxton. Mezei is a contemporary composer whose spirit of spontaneous adventure crosses over into avant jazz. He builds his pieces around the rhythms of the Hungarian language and folk melodies, contemporary music and the Afro-American jazz tradition. Improvised sections are intertwined with composed score with well-placed, extended solos from among the 14 musicians. Each of the five pieces stands as a substantial work, lasting13 to 17 minutes. There are two drummers, two percussionists playing marimba and, recalling Bartok, Milan Aleksic who solos on celesta. Repeat listens are rewarding. ****1/2
IRWIN BLOCK - The Gazette
Cadence, Apr-May-June 2009
© Cadence Magazine 2009
Jazz Magazine Avril 2009