Time Flies (1998) – A November Music Production – NVR 2002-2
THE MODERNIST NOSTALGIA
In successive years before the Hitler war, composer Béla Bartók toured England and Scotland, travelling alone from station to station and from concert hall to concert hall. Those who heard him responded to his brilliant technique, to his brilliant synthesis of tradition and modernity, and to a touch of sadness in his person.
Something of that quality shines through in the work of György Szabados, though the sadness of the blues has as large a part in his musical background as the grief-songs of the Magyar kingdom had in Bartók’s. It is clear that “Golden Age” and “Memory”,which precedes it, grow from some nostalgic spring deep within. The technique is strikingly similar to what survives of Bartók’s on record-the same light, unemphatic touch that makes its case by persuasion and reason rather than histrionics, the same delicately pedalled sustains and damped notes, the same insistence on the continuity of self and art. “Love”, dedicated to Szabados’s wife, is one of the great statements of musical endearment, a work of tiny glimpses and private gestures, but unmistakable in its warmth.
Sometimes the source of inspiration is from the East, as in “Raga (Consolation)”, a characteristically philosophical exploration of tonalities and moods. Its Indian classical tinge is not “exotic” in any way, but perfectly melded with Szabados’s own idiomit’s followed by a reminder that Krishna is also the Lord of the Dance. “My Favourite Dance” is … what? Listen to its beguiling rhythms and decide. Szabados is that rare thing, a brilliant improviser and a confident formalist. One senses that his navigational instincts are secure, that wherever he wanders musically, his spirit is anchored.
Brian Morton, Glasgow, September 1999
AN UNIVERSAL DIALECT
One of the top issues concerning the development of jazz is the contribution of ethnic dialects to the universal language of improvisation. Despite the redrawing of the map of Europe in the beginning of the 1990’s, little is known about the alternative music traditions of the countries formerly isolated by the infamous “iron curtain” though, according to many this part of the Globe is bound to bring fresh impulses to the cultural activity of the Western world.
Born in 1939, he formed his first band in 1955. By the early 60’s he was playing free jazz, am unorthodox type of music which, with its spontaneous emotional impact and the unusually complex harmonic and rhytmic structures, was born parallell with the avantgarde trends of American jazz, especially the music of Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane and Archie Shepp. His concept burst opening the framework of jazz forms and styles of the day. Szabados instinctively built his musical idiom on the soil of the rubato type Hungarian folk song ‚and the oriental asymmetric rhythm so familiar from the works of his great compatriot, Béla Bartók as an idiom that paved the way for experiments through strongly controlled yet freely performed music that set new standards in improvisation.
The first international success for Szabados came in 1972 at the San Sobastian Jazz Festival, Spain, where his group won the first prize of the free category. His groundbreaking LP, entitled “The Wedding”, was released in 1974 and quickly became a classic with its unique blend of Hungrian music, jazz improvisation and the compositional methods of contemporary music. While, due to his uncompromising commitment, he was for years disregarded in his native land, the 80’s finally brought the deserved international recognition for him. His art was especially highly regarded in the German speaking countries, where he performed at the Daxberg Festival, the oper of Cologne and The Alternative Music Festival in Vienna, and many other prestigious venues. As a denial of the proverb that no one is prophet in his own country, in 1985 he was awarded Hungary’s top musical performing decoration, the “Ferenc Liszt-prize. His meetings with Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell, representatives of the Chicago black avantgarde, resulted in a series of concerts and recordings released in Hungary. It was amazing how easily these musicians, arriving from different backgrounds, could find a common language of artistie expression, irrespective of distance, ideology and the colour of the skin.
Szabados is not only a pianist and a composer, but also a poet, a philosopher and a schoolsetter musician, sorrounded by a dedicated group of followers. His vast but underdocumented oeuvre transcends the idiom of jazz. In an attempt to escape from the aesthetic and commercial barriers that determine Western art forms, he simply calls his pieces “music”. The key words to his art are perhaps “discipline” and “naturalness”, terms relating to his deep-seated conviction regarding the innate, pure musicality and creative capacity of every single human being. Ever since he started playing music, he has been guided by the need for the freedom of expression, an unaffected, open state of mind that helps to bring forth the inner vibrations of the soul through interactive communication. It is this free spirits and the challenge of creativity that attracted him to jazz, claming that it is the most unique and impressive music of this passing, multicultural twentieth century.
It may be a matter of perspective to define what a dialect is. To this listener, a Hungarian himself. the music on this CD is not a dialect. It is a powerful statement of an artist who has dedicated his life to the artistic expression of the synthesis of tradition and modernity, morality and eternity, one’s own identity and the concerns of humanity. It is a deeply personal music of universal appeal. It is the music of György Szabados.
Garbor Turi,Budapest, July 1999
The Wedding / Az esküvő (1974) plus 3 Bonus tracks (1964; 1981; 1982) : Jazz History 8 – Hungaroton – HCD 71094
CD Text Inside Cover György (George) Szabados is a living legend of modern Hungarian jazz history. Following the way of Bartók, the famous Hungarian composer, he played avangarde and free jazz already in the 1960s establishing his own style independently from the American way. He got to face the incomprehension of hide-bound musicians.read more...
Triotone : Anthony Braxton/Gyorgy Szabados/Vladimir Tarasov (2003) – Leo Records 416
There may be a special bond between the members of this international trio, forged in their individual early frustrations. While György Szabados and Vladimir Tarasov spent their early careers persecuted by their Soviet bloc governments for playing jazz, Anthony Braxton was regularly chided by a different kind of apparatchik as an African-American musician open to the influence of European music, for playing music some would deny was jazz. The music that the three play here lives up to the promise of difference in their histories.
The past year has been one of major releases for Anthony Braxton, with the stunning four CDs of 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (Leo) from 2003 European concerts and the two CDs of duets with the master drummer Andrew Cyrille (Intakt). There has also been a recent reunion disc with old partner Wadada Leo Smith (Palmetto). This recording — from a singular concert in Magyarkanizsa — is just as worthy of attention, both for the quality of the trio’s playing and as a significant new episode in Braxton’s relationship with the pianist/composer György Szabados.
Szabados and Braxton first played together in 1982 and in 1984 recorded an LP of duets called Szabraxtondos (on SLPX). The word-play of the title suggests how musically close the two were, and their ability to adapt and interact is apparent in this 2003 performance. For his part, Vladimir Tarasov is an ideal third partner, a drummer capable of the subtlest ornament and the most propulsive touch, with skills honed for many years in the Ganelin Trio and in his duo with Andrew Cyrille.
Szabados is the senior musician here, born in 1939 and, as the composer of the opening selections, most responsible for how this music is constructed. But it is safe to say that outside his native Hungary he is also the least known. The virtual father of free jazz in Hungary, he has also worked extensively in through-composed forms. His LP The Wedding, from 1974, was a significant achievement in integrating jazz, traditional Hungarian folk music and formal composition. He has played extensively throughout Eastern and Central Europe, has worked with Peter KowaId and Evan Parker, and has recorded with Roscoe Mitchell. Still, Szabados’ work has had little exposure in the West — his first release outside his homeland was the excellent Time Flies, a solo CD recorded in 1998 (released on November Music; the Web-site www.novembermusic.com provides a useful introduction to Szabados). Hopefully this current release will also help to spread the word about a major musician.
And what is the character of this music? It’s in many ways a great recording of Hungarian music and is, in certain respects, a particularly strong recording of what was once termed third stream music, a music that has grown immensely since label-makers lost sight of it about forty years. In its emotional focus and linear drive, it relates directly to an improvisatory tradition in Hungarian music that links the folk, the classical, the romantic and the modernist. This is in no sense fashionable music; it is, however, music of insistent power that shows another possibility of improvisation.
A Digression on the Improvisatory Spirit of Hungarian Music
As improvisation continues to assert its claim as the essential musical practice, it’s important to note the particular contours of its demise in European music. If he was not the last great improviser in nineteenth-century music, Franz Liszt was very perhaps the last to be celebrated, playing concerts at age 12 that included “extemporized” music in which he would invite audience members to suggest themes (Michael Furstner, “On Improvisation”, www.jazclass.aust.com). As well as being a virtuoso solo improviser, Liszt was aware of a tradition of collective improvisation in the folk music practice of rural Hungary. In the Hungarian Rhapsodies he began to mine idiomatic music in the interests of cultural nationalism (though they were evidently based on urban popular songs rather than authentic rural folk materials, but then Brahms’ Hungarian Dances were inspired by working as accompanist to a Hungarian violinist in Germany).
Liszt’s virtuosity and his later use of dissonance and bi-tonality (a kind of proto-modernism) lead naturally to the brilliant percussive freedom of early modernist piano music, a style developed largely in Eastern Europe by Bartók and Prokofiev. The expressionist, gestural quality of much of this music feels improvised, and has had significant impact on free jazz piano technique (one might also note the influence of Scriabin on Bill Evans).
The tonal materials of much Eastern European folk music have always been far enough away from triadic harmony and tempered scales to alter substantially the very Western forms that would integrate them (hence, the special appeal of the Bulgarian Women’s Choir for its command of microtonal singing). Eastern European music is modal music, with intimate connections to the Orient and the Near-East. In Hungary the bond between these traditions and modernist composition are particularly strong. It was modernist composers — Béla Bartók and Zoltan Kodely — who carried out the major field work on the country’s rural musical traditions.
Bartók has long been a favourite of jazz musicians, for the freedom and complexity of his harmonic language and that so much of his music feels improvised and invites improvisation. In 1938 Benny Goodman commissioned the trio piece Contrasts and recorded it with the composer at the piano. Lee Konitz’s recently reissued Piecemeal (Milestone/OJC) includes three arrangements of Bartók’s Mikrokosmos piano pieces and John Abercrombie’s recent Class Trip (ECM) includes his “Soldier’s Song.”
So if it was jazz that would introduce Szabados to improvisational practice, once the step had been taken there was another wellspring, geographically immediate, to draw on. The rhythms that drive his music, the characteristic intervals and scales, are in the musics of Eastern Europe, and his piano playing owes more to Bartók (with a nod to Thelonious Monk) than to the free jazz streams of either Cecil Taylor (who shares some of the same pianistic roots) or Paul Bley.
The Music at Hand
“Trioton,” Szabados, long, suite-like piece, is this trio’s essential statement, a shifting tapestry that shows so much of the character of this interaction, the trio’s expressive breadth marking the haunting opening theme with the piano’s bell-like tones and ghostly tremolos and the understated percussion touches. Then there’s the way it accumulates tension, in part through its mix of elements — its almost programmatic mystery, the gathering lightness of the runs, hints of a Monkish discourse on the blues. It is in that levitation that the trio asserts itself — the way Szabados’ runs unhinge from the gravity of his opening, Braxton’s fluttering vibrato, the light touch of Tarasov’s snare and cymbal work (at times reminding that he was the percussionist with the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra), all of it lifting upward from the weight of the theme. There is a sense here of multiple times — of a grave mediation and a high-speed flight and the upswelling of time between the two, all three maintained as constant states. The long trio-logue improvisation that is its middle is a delight of inventive exchange. The final dance-like theme — very like Stravinsky — sets up a repeating figure that’s in contrast to the expansive free play that Szabados uses to elaborate it. The extreme rapidity and pinched sound of Braxton’s sopranino is a perfect complement — a seizing of freedom where it seems unlikeliest.
The comparatively short “Black Toots,” another Szabados composition, seems to touch simultaneously on the worlds of Bartók and Monk. The first two of the three short improvisations that end the concert are very different in their materials from Szabados’ compositions — the principle of interplay is sonic rather than immediately melodic or harmonic, with Braxton assuming a natural leadership role in the play of timbre and breath. “Improvisation 2” is an ethereal gem, a glimpse into another sonic order. “Improvisation 3,” with the power of its rolling piano and the folk-dance of its tambourine, returns us to the world of “Trioton.”
This music belongs to more than one great tradition, and it’s worthy of them all.
The Heart of Beauty / A Szepseg Szive (György Szabados & Miklós Mákó Duo) (2001) – Fonó Records Ltd. FA-213-2
The heart of the beauty
The kind of musicality, in which this music has been engendered, considering its style and usability is in fact outside the today popular genres. We have here a direct and expressive sound-world – in its kind confessional, contemplating, walking on inner paths and projecting them on to the surface – which due to its improvisational character might be the closest to jazz, this typical, determining musical phenomenon of the 20th century. This recording carried out in an extraordinary short time is in fact the synthesis of a long past rich in substance. A (in my opinion) unique musical workshop had been creative during more then two decades where a dozen of musicians had the permanent opportunity (some occasionally) to develop themselves into the necessary intuition, into an acoustic and technical “all-knowing” state, which are basic condition and means for the musical improvisational talent and which – additionally to the indispensable gift of innate capacity – consecrate the musician as an indirect musical “speaker” and the musicians as means for playing together and for evoking a special world of music. The musical material “The heart of beauty” is one of the later formulations of this long and inaugurating theoretical and practical work. It is a totally personnel and may-be for this reason, a deepest contemporary music.
Today I know: it was no coincidence that following our performance such a weightless, “Earth-less”, floating musical material has been recorded during the hours in these two short days. Since our thoughts were for some time no longer riding on “object games”, and it was good to feel the unusual and timeless lightness of our instruments and means.
The recorded 13 pieces remind us in their flow about the protracting and still almost motionless visionary character of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an exhibition – from the entry into a different, nobler sphere till the unexpected arrival at the end of contemplation’s pathless paths. We crossed pier-less bridges and while underneath we perceived dimly a deserted and beloved world, light swept us away.
by György Szabados (Translation by Marianne Tharan)
Szabados – New Dimension Workshop – Új Dimenzió Műhely (2005) – Logos Publishing House / Hungarian Radio Educational Publication L CD 07
György Szabados and the New Dimension Workshop’s debut together was at the Miskolc Bartók-Tsaikovsky Opera Festival in 2004. As a young clarinetist, Antal Babits, the founder of the New Dimension Workshop, formerly worked for the late Kassak Contemporary Music Workshop which introduced and set on foot many improvisative musicians and was led by Szabados.
Antal Babits is both a clarinetist and a composer, and a historian of philosophy. He graduated from the Peter Pazmäny Theological Academy in 1986. With the help of the Soros Scholarship he made research on philosophy of religion.read more...
Csaba Klenyan was born in Vac, Hungary in 1969. He studied with Jozsef Balogh and Béla Kovacs at the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy in Budapest, graduating in 1990. The following year he won first prize at the Young Interpreters Competition in Arizona, and then again in 1993 at the Popa International Clarinet Competition in Bucharest, Romania. Besides playing the classical and romantic repertoire, he is keenly interested in performing contemporary music as a clarinettist. Many of these compositions are written specially for him. He has won the Artisjus Prize on three occasions, in recognition of his commitment to contemporary music, and last year was awarded the Liszt Prize. He is a founding member of the Ensemble UMZE (New Hungarian Music Society). In December 2003 he made his debut recital in London as a soloist at one of Springboard Concerts Trust s series at the Wallace Collection, as part of Magyar Magic — Hungary in Focus 2004. In 2002-2003 he was holder of a Soros fellowship. Csaba Klenyan plays a Selmer Recital clarinet.
György Szabados: the well known figure of improvisative contemporary music was born on the 13-th of July, 1939 in Budapest, Hungary. He was only a young boy when his outstanding musical talents already manifested. He did his musical studies privately. The development of his carrier was seriously set back by the extreemly closed and ideologically controlled intellectual and artistic life in Hungary of that period in which every divergent spiritual position was prohibited. He found jazz as a means of giving free scope to his improvisative talents. Nevertheless Szabados is not obviously a jazz musician. His appearence caused basic changes in the musical life in Hungary. His music is extreemly dinamic, both very Europian and at the same time Hungarian in the sense of tradition and modernity. Among others, he has played with Roscoe Mitchel, Anthony Braxton (he also has done concert recordings with them) with Peter Kowald, Johannes and Connie Bauer, Fred van Hove, Evan Parker, Jiri Stivin, Hans Ludwig Petrowsky, Vlagyimir Taraszov. He regularly publishes writings on music. In 1972 he won the Free Music Prize of the San Sebastian Jazz Competition. He was given the Ferenc Liszt Award in 1983 and the Award For Hungarian Art in 2001 as an acknowledgement for his work.
Adam Javorka: after finishing his violastudies at the music conservatorie and jazz music school, from 1990 Adam Javorka started playing in different symphonic and chamber orchestras, jazz groups (Hungarian RTV., Youth Orchestra, Erno Dohnanyi Symphonic Orchestra, Marcato Ensemble, Juventutis Symphonic Orchestra, Hungarian Radio Electroaccustic Orchestra). At the same time he was playing with many improvisation groups and contemporary dance groups from Hungary and many other countries (Balvanyos Ensemble, Agens Production, Li Dance Lab, Makuz). Since the 90’s he has made many electronical projects with sampler: live performances, and CD-s, in Hungary and in Europe too (Belleview Digital, Place Moscou Minimal). In 1999 he founded the Belleview Studio, where he composed many film, TV and theatre music. These days he is continually on tour with different musicians and contemporary dancers in Europe and in the USA. He has been playing together with the New Dimension Workshop since 2004.
Vetettem Gyöngyöt (Világzene Magyarországon 1972-2006) (1985) – Etnophon ER-CD 094
György Szabados is one of the pioneers of the `Hungarian jazz’ based on folk music of this region. In the 1960’s he won first place in the free jazz category at the San Sebastian Festival. The technical literature bravely puts him up next to Bartók, though in the 60’s and 70’s his art too was surrounded by prejudice and a lack of comprehension. The piece called `A szarvassá vált flak’ [Sons that became deer] was inspired by the 1956 revolution; it is historical music, music of fate.
Szabados is not only a pioneer, but he created a school as well: many, many of his students played together in his workshop known as ‘MAKUZ’; Mihály ‘Dudás’ Dresch, István Grencsó, Károly Binder, Ferenc Kovács, Zoltán Lantos, István Baló, Róbert Benkő, Attila Lőrinszky and Tamás Geröly — most of whom later became members of the Dresch Quartet, Grencsó Kollektíva and Dél-Аlföl-dí Szaxofonegyüttes [Dél-Alföld Saxophone Ensemble].
László Távolodó Marton (translation by Sue Foy)
Bells / The land of Boldogasszony – Boldogasszony földje / Harangok (2007) – BMC CD 130
The deep experience that binds me to the sound of bells is boundless. My childhood initiation. And if, as the writer Béla Hamvas said, sound is truly the “fire” of material, the sound of bells is the blissful breath of this fire, of fires embracing one another; a sigh that encompasses the Earth.
This world is the land of Boldogasszony (the Ancient Mother Earth of Hungarian mythology) – a holy paradise. Blissful, secret, in proximity to the divine. Resplendent with poppies, reverential. The world of embraces and sublime rubato. Where today’s ungainly era is spread out by the lights and shadows of towers in the changeable sky, and the inter-tolling of bells keeps tally of it over us.
Translated by Richard Robinson
György Szabados (1939), composer and pianist, is known throughout Europe as a figure in improvised contemporary music. He studied music privately.read more...
Be that as it may, Szabados is not unequivocally a jazz musician. His music is extremely dynamic and open, both European and Hungarian in terms of tradition and modernism, full of fresh spontaneity and intellectual power. His creative concept is based on the harmony of composition and free improvisation, on the interdependence between music as a natural language and man as an articulate medium.
He was only able to break out of his forced isolation after several attempts, in 1972. He won the first prize for free music at the San Sebastian Jazz Competition, though even after this he only found opportunities to play concerts in university circles. He founded a contemporary music workshop in which he initiated a series of pupils into the world of improvised contemporary music. With his music and personality he has created a school of his own. Only since the 80s has he had regular opportunities for concerts abroad, recordings and continuous creative work.
He has played in concerts with Roscoe Mitchel, Anthony Braxton (also recording with them), Peter Kowald, Johannes and Connie Bauer, Fred van Hove, Evan Parker, Jiri Stivin, Hans Ludwig Petrowsky and Vladimir Tarasov. He regularly publishes writings on music.
He has written a ballet (choreographed by Iván Markó), a dance opera (choreographed by József Nagy [Joseph Nadj]), a piece for string orchestra, a cantata to poems by Mihály Babits, ceremonial music, a work to commemorate the 1956 Hungarian revolution, solo and chamber pieces for piano, but is first and foremost committed to completely free, improvised music. He created the improvisatory group MAKUZ (Hungarian Royal Court Orchestra) as the successor to his contemporary music workshop.
In recognition of his work in 1983 he was awarded the greatest Hungarian music decoration, the Liszt Prize, in 2000 he won the Gábor Szabó Prize for life achievement from the Hungarian Jazz Federation, and in 2001 received the Prize for Hungarian Art.
B-A-C-H élmények (Modern Jazz Anthology 64, 1964, Qualiton LP) – the first free music recording in Hungary; trioread more...
Adyton (1982, Hungaroton LP) – septett
Szabraxtondos (1984, Hungaroton LP) – with Anthony Braxton, duo
A szarvassá vált fiak (Boys become Stags) (1985, Hungaroton LP) – MAKUZ
Homoki zene (Sand Music) (1991, Adyton CD) – MAKUZ
Elfelejtett énekek (Forgotten Songs) (1992, Fonó CD) – trio
Az események titkos története (The Secret History of the Events) (1996, Fonó 2CD) – epic chant, Tamás Kobzos Kiss and trio (with the re-release of the album A szarvassá vált fiak)
Idő-zene (Time Music) (1997, Fonó CD) – for strings (disc by the Academy Soloists)
A szent főnixmadár dürrögései (Ruttings of the Sacred Phoenix Bird) (1997, Szabados and co. CD) – solo album
Jelenés (Revelation) (1998, Fonó CD) – with Roscoe Mitchell, sextet
Time Flies (1998, November Music CD) – awarded Jazz Record of the Year prize by Gramofon magazine; solo
A szépség szíve (The Heart of Beauty) (2004, Fonó CD) – with Miklós Mákó, duo
Triotone (2004, Leo Records CD) – with Anthony Braxton and Vladimir Tarasov, trio
Baltás zsoltár (Axe Psalm) (2007, Győrfree CD) – issue of recording from 1973, quintet
Készülődés a csatára (Preparation for Battle) (2007, Győrfree CD) – issue of recording from 1987, MAKUZ
Boldogasszony földje (Harangok) (Land of Boldogasszony – Bells) (2008, BMC CD) – solo