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|JAZZPÓDIUM 74: SZABÓ
GÁBOR (USA) MÜSORA
Magyar Rádió 8.Stúdiójába; Budapest, Hungary: September 12, 1974
János Másik (el-p); Gabor Szabo (g); Aladár Pege (el-b); Imre Köszegi (d, perc); István Dely (cga).
same except, Aladár Pege (b).
same, except Aladár Pege (el-b); add Kati Kovács (vcl).
same, except Kati Kovács out.
Gabor Szabo (g).
same, except Aladár Pege (el-b); Kati Kovács (vcl).
same, except Aladár Pege (b); Kati Kovács out.
John Sebastian's lyrical "Magical Connection" is an ideal theme to launch Gabor Szabo's return to Hungary. The connection to his homeland was a deep and passionately felt one; celebrated with the cream of Budapest's contemporary jazz elite (featuring the internationally renowned bassist Aladár Pege). The performance here is haunting, moody and evocative of the spellbinding enchantment the guitarist stirs at his very best. There is a joy to Szabo's performance; a satisfaction to swing with a freedom and ease unknown to him in Budapest during the Communist regime of the 50s. Urged on as he is by his idolatrous and talented musical associates, the small TV studio seems like a wide expanse where the guitarist senses no constriction or boundary. János Másik's Fender Rhodes cushions the guitarist with the pianistic poetry that Bob James and, later, Chick Corea offered. And the two percussionists seem to have studied Gabor's musicality intently, so effectively do they season and swing.
Clearly, this is Szabo's moment in the spotlight. Upon his return to Hungary, he was welcomed as a prodigal son and regarded with the royalty bestowed a favored child of a nationally renowned family. In fact, this 45-minute Magyar Televízió special was the first show completely devoted to jazz on Hungarian television. Upon returning to America, Szabo reported that, after sitting in with several groups in Hungarian clubs, "[he] was offered the elite of the Hungarian jazz world, and they were all playing at these clubs." Szabo was unquestionably pleased with results too. "The show was marvelous," he exclaimed. "Enthusiasm and sheer love supplied what was lacking in money. I was given complete freedom in my choice of material and musicians; as a consequence, I didn't pick the obvious players, but looked for some new talent. The pianist I discovered, János Másik, was just fantastic and because of the exposure the TV show afforded him, he's now accepted by his peers and has since been appearing on television quite a lot." Throughout, the guitarist bears the weight of the proud Hungarian who's career and fame carry the aura and mystique of an American jazz hero. But he is also the Hungarian emissary who's made a name for himself in worldwide jazz circles. Between the in-studio performances, Szabo participates in a Hungarian interview; casually sipping a cocktail and smoking a cigarette with sophisticated elegance. He is a star - and this television special celebrates that fact.
But, in performance, the guitarist is all business - doing what he does best. He slips next into the guitar/bass introduction that welcomes "My Foolish Heart." Here, Pege approximates the role Ron Carter fashioned on Szabo's original performance of the tune (on SPELLBINDER) but adds a bowed touch to the refrain which make the performance his own. Pege and Szabo interact as if waltzing together; Pege more than willing to let the guitarist lead. The other musicians soon blend in to the performance while the guitarist mixes his characteristic stew of minor chords and lovely single-line flourishes. At one point, Szabo even employs a wah-wah effect utilized briefly on the SMALL WORLD sessions. The piece segues (via Másik's Corea-esque cues) into an uptempo version of "Fly Me To The Moon," where, as in his other performances of standards, Szabo excels. One imagines his Hungarian audience enthralled by a native son picking from the American standards catalog. Szabo sticks to rapid single-line phrases and evidences a post-bop mastery of scalar progression and clean, clear musical thought.
A particular surprise here is the two-chord Latin-meets-bossa vamp, "Az Esó Es En" (The Rain And Me), a feature for Hungarian pop singer Kati Kovács. The song, which first appeared on the 1974 album KOVÁCS KATI - L/OCOMOTIV/GT (LGT), is similar to Linda Ronstadt's "You're No Good" (popular in America at about the same time in 1974). "Az Esó Es En" benefits by Kovács' similarity to Ronstadt's sound yet more refined style. Szabo, who always sets a seductive environment for the few female vocalists he's performed with, establishes the Latin groove and both percussionists give it a propulsive rhythm playing only congas. Szabo's solo on this tune is the highlight of the whole show. He's at his very best here - having fun, playing with flair, and even making it funky.
Returning again to a piece from the MAGICAL CONNECTION album, the group settles into Charles Lloyd's funky "Sombrero Sam" - a catchy piece that allows the principals to blow a little more together. The final credits begin to roll as a close-up is shown of Szabo's poetic fingering of "Django" - John Lewis' tribute to Europe's first and foremost guitar innovator, Django Reinhardt. One is struck here by Szabo's first performance of the tune (recorded on BELSTA RIVER). His Hungarian jazz audience was probably familiar enough with the classic jazz piece, but perhaps surprised at Szabo's first real musical acknowledgment of the legendary European jazz guitarist. The listener feels as if Szabo is performing as much in tribute to the land of his birth as in homage to the jazz tradition to which he has become so much a part.
In the second part (which totals about 20 minutes), Szabo performs more familiar material. "Thirteen" benefits by Pege's European sensibility and sensitivity to the leader's musical universe. Ms. Kovacs returns thereafter to sing (in nearly-perfect English) the very familiar Wings hit "My Love;" a natural for someone like Szabo, so mesmerized in the 60s by music of the Beatles. While it's 'pure pop,' the McCartneys' song is not out of place here. Ms. Kovacs seems to know her way around music like this quite well - and Szabo segues it all into a modal drone riff reminiscent of his work on the DREAMS album. Wolfgang Melz's funky "Reinhardt" (the song named for his son - who, himself, was named for the famous jazz guitarist) concludes this performance with the guitarist digging into it, spurned on by the propulsive energy of bassist. Pege, in fact, brings more of a bebop feel to this performance than Szabo's electric bassists (composer Melz and John Smith) and he tops it off with a very exciting bowed solo. It is clear that Pege and Szabo have established the creative chemistry that makes Szabo's best work (foremost with Charles Lloyd, Gary McFarland, Jimmy Stewart and Bob James) so hypnotic and alluring. It's a shame this group never recorded in the studio for a release. It is an ideal amalgam that generates much beauty and excitement together.
Transcript of interview: Translated by Joe Geszler (with thanks to Paul Hahn).
Gabor Szabo: To start with, I imitated the American guitarists. But I wasn't satisfied with the way I was playing and one night I got so frustrated that I started "hammering" the guitar strings. At that point my inhibitions disappeared and I came to the realization that this is the way I should be playing. This is my type of music. My roots are still very strong.
Interviewer: Does this mean that the Hungarian gets into your music?
Gabor Szabo: My Hungarian got into the music before and now too. I'm trying to do newer things. Actually, sometimes I don't mean to do something different but it happens unintentionally. I'm learning even today.
Gabor Szabo: I attended the Berklee School, one of the best for modern music, newer music. They are teaching that. I went there for three years. I learned music theory. Also, it's an excellent venue for playing. If you write something down, somebody can play it. They can hear it. They can imagine it. This was my education.
Interviewer: Who did you play with?
Gabor Szabo: Besides Chico Hamilton I worked with Charles Lloyd, who became one of my best friends, and Gary McFarland, who unfortunately is now deceased.
This is the reason I started playing my own music, why I went out on my own. At that time [mid-sixties] it looked like jazz was dying. It wasn't the way it is now, where the music has evolved into something different. I'd done this record and as a result was offered some club gigs. I wasn't sure if I should take them or not. By that time I had a good idea which way I should be going. I was doing Beatles numbers and Hungarian songs which I was turning into jazz. I accepted the club gigs.
But this was not popular then, doing Beatles or Hungarian numbers as jazz tunes. There was great chauvinism in jazz at that time and because of this I feel there is a new music that sort of evolved. It's a new era in music. Now is an exciting time for me because there is an acceptance of the concept of bringing different styles of music together - whether they be rock, jazz, Indian, Hungarian or Brazilian - to make a new, modern, contemporary music.
When I set out on my own I suspected I was entering a very important era in music for me. Now I am sure of it.
Gabor Szabo: Bela Bartok, for example, everyone was saying his music was "this modern, that modern, you can't understand it." But when I first heard Bartok it hit me so hard, it really got to me deeply. Later on I started to unravel the complex structure of the music. But the feeling comes first, not the technique. It doesn't matter if it's one note or two notes or ten thousand notes.
Interviewer: In effect, the instrument is secondary. What's most important is the music.
Gabor Szabo: Exactly. In English the word "instrument" also means tool. The way you express yourself is what's most important.