We want to bring your attention to a new CD: Grencsó Collective Special 5 with Ken Vandermark – Title: Do not slam the door!

Posted by Rudolf Kraus

Is there such a thing as coincidence? Perhaps. But in the encounter between István Grencsó and Ken Vandermark some kind of necessity seems to have been at work. If we compare the careers followed by these two artists in the last decade and a half or so, it seems as if their paths have intertwined, with parallels and intersections. This is far from being self-evident, because a fundamental consideration for both of them is constant renewal, and the search for ever newer forms of expression…


Parallel Phenomenon



Do Not Slam The Door!









Only You Can Hear It…



Hymn For A Birthday



Running Fence



It Is Darkening



And Then, Whatever Happens Will Happen…



Let Thy Will Be Done


 Total time:



István Grencsó – tenor & alto sax, clarinet, flute

Ken Vandermark – tenor sax, clarinet

Stevan Kovács Tickmayer – piano, electronics

Róbert Benkő – double bass (left channel)

Ernő Hock – double bass, bass guitar (right channel)

Szilveszter Miklós – drums

Production notes:

Compositions by István Grencsó (2, 6, 10), Ken Vandermark (4, 7), Ken Vandermark, Stevan Kovács Tickmayer,

Róbert Benkő (3), István Grencsó, Róbert Benkő (8), Stevan Kovács Tickmayer, Róbert Benkő, Ernő Hock,

Szilveszter Miklós (5) and collective spontaneous music (1, 9)

Music publisher: Twenty First Mobile Music / ASCAP-Cien Fuegos (4, 7)

Recorded by Zsolt Kiss at BMC Studio, Budapest on 17-20 July, 2017

Mixed and mastered by Stevan Kovács Tickmayer

Artwork: László Huszár / Greenroom

Produced by László Gőz

Label manager: Tamás Bognár

It was an opening. An opening into a history of improvised music I knew nothing about, an encounter with the name György Szabados – a pianist who was the key figure for developing an improvised music scene in Hungary, whose group „MAKUZ” was a musical and conceptual training ground for players like István Grencsó (who leads the ensemble on this album) and Róbert Benkő (who has been playing with István since the 1980s). Though I didn’t know it until I arrived in Budapest in May of 2018, Szabados collaborated and recorded with American artists like Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell – at their behest.

From a personal standpoint, it was the encounter with István, Róbert, Ernő Hock, Szilveszter Miklós, and Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer, the open discussions (often translated with the help of Benedek Kruchio) and music that took place while working together that had the most impact. It was a true collaboration, which developed between May 9th and 12th, in rehearsals at the Budapest Music Center (where the great Hungarian composer, György Kurtág, currently lives), at the concerts (in Sárvár and Budapest), and recording sessions (at the BMC). The music, whether composed or improvised, moved through wide ranging territories – complex, accelerated, and austere.

My experience of working with the Grencsó Collective in Hungary is a perfect example of how creative collaboration in the arts helps to build bridges between people. I think of Coleman Hawkins inviting Pee Wee Russell to record; I think of Archie Shepp asking Roswell Rudd to be in his band; I think of Peter Brötzmann collaborating with Han Bennink, Fred van Hove, Evan Parker, and Derek Bailey; I think of Anthony Braxton developing a quartet with Marilyn Crispell – all combinations which confounded preconceptions and socio-political pressure. Each pointing to the fact that there is something essential and human in each of us that needs to be shared to enable society to move forward as a whole. As the title by Istvan Grencsó suggests, we should never slam the doors between us closed. Instead, as the music here and its creative process again confirmed – we should slam each of them open.

Ken Vandermark
(Wroclaw, Poland, September 24, 2018)


Is there such a thing as coincidence? Perhaps. But in the encounter between István Grencsó and Ken Vandermark some kind of necessity seems to have been at work. If we compare the careers followed by these two artists in the last decade and a half or so, it seems as if their paths have intertwined, with parallels and intersections. This is far from being self-evident, because a fundamental consideration for both of them is constant renewal, and the search for ever newer forms of expression. In the musical idioms of both Grencsó and Vandermark, we hear the effect of external influences on them, and changes within them. As well as their natural predispositions, they are led in this direction by the artists who have influenced and inspired them. On his webpage Ken Vandermark actually names these influences. Among the musicians, we find John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Steve Lacy, Alexander von Schlippenbach, and even Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, and Glenn Gould. But he also refers to composers, photographers, choreographers, film directors, writers, architects, visual artists and philosophers, and he often writes dedications for his pieces, thus enlarging the network of those he relates to. In this way the multiple threads connecting him to related arts become visible, and his attraction to branches of contemporary art and artists is particularly strong. 

Although István Grencsó has published no similar list, we know that his music and artistic thinking have been decisively influenced by the thinking of György Szabados; he has made an excellent CD interpreting pieces by Thelonious Monk, and has also played compositions by Ornette Coleman and Rashan Roland Kirk. The Adyton Szabadzenei Együttlétek [Adyton Free Music Togetherness] is slowly becoming an institution in its own right, and its programmes feature writers, poets, artists, photographers, film directors and people from the other related arts. 

In addition to this, Grencsó is a frequent guest at exhibition openings and book launches. Ken Vandermark founded his iconic band Vandermark5 in the mid-1990s, and by 2010 they had made 17 albums. With a lineup of drums, bass, and mostly three but sometimes two wind, Vandermark5’s music, which offered ample opportunity for the excellent musicians to flourish in the solos, became a milestone for American avant-garde jazz. When Vandermark felt the frame of the combo was too narrow to realize his artistic aims, his attention was increasingly drawn to the very broad-ranging projects of often European musicians, and in 2010 he dissolved Vandermark5. According to his webpage he has ten active projects on the go today, with sixteen either inactive or concluded, and in these he has worked or is working with nearly fifty musicians. After the memorable prototype of Villa Negra by Big Collective, from Bio Collective’s 2006 CD Zumzoo to the 2011 disc Local Time, István Grencsó trod a similar path to Vandermark5, and made recordings with two or three winds, bass, and drums. A new phase in his career started with a change in the instrumentation of Open Collective, when for the first time in the history of his independent orchestras, he enriched the sound with a piano, the first fruit of this being the CD Síkvidék (Flat). The piano plays a significant role in Grencsó’s exploratory expeditions, which take him further and further away from jazz in the traditional sense. Using free improvisation and the resources of contemporary music, Grencsó and Barnabás Dukay have created a radically new sound; with Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer and Trió Kontraszt they rather reinterpreted the relationship between strictly composed and improvised elements within the framework of jazz. There are other similarities between the recent endeavours of Grencsó and Vandermark. For instance, both are open to the guitar, though they exploit different aspects of its potential. Vandermark inclines more to distorted or, if you will, rock-type effects, whereas Grencsó in his quartet of two guitars and bass, prefers soft, ethereal sounds. They both show an interest in the potential latent in electronics, and in recent years Bálint Bolcsó has been an important and regular fellow-artist of Grencsó’s, while two years ago Vandermark gave a duo concert with the Norwegian noise music artist Lasse Marhaug. Finally, let’s not forget that both of them experiment with the potential for incorporating and integrating the human voice, and the American saxophonist’s recent CDs include texts or a contemporary-style voice, while his Hungarian colleague’s CD released a while ago on the BMC label has poems by Afro-American saxophonist and poet Lewis Jordan; today his exciting music is woven predominantly around his own poems.

As well as the similarities, let’s look at the differences. In recent years István Grencsó has travelled very far from jazz in the traditional sense, or from free jazz. His concerts and recordings tend to feature spontaneous work that completely does away with composed or pre-improvised elements. He abandons the theme-improvisation structure and replaces it with real-time composition, which demands concentrated attention from musicians and listeners alike, thus opening up a space in the area beyond the mostly unexplored borderlines between jazz and contemporary music. Of course even this music has a structure, but it can better be grasped as a transition between states, as from the interaction between the musicians a harmony grows, then they relinquish it to move on to the next one. He has also moved beyond rhythmic constraints, often using no drummer in the band, and if he does, then the role of the percussion instruments is completely emancipated, consistently wary of providing any pulsing rhythmic foundation. Vandermark is more firmly linked to the free jazz tradition: his pieces are organized around composed parts, and he is fond of building on the vigorous rhythms of the drum and bass. Within this framework there are intermezzos filled by the musicians with spontaneous, free music. Thus for him spontaneity is rather an occasional, supplementary element, whereas for Grencsó it has become the main form.

The similarities and differences described might arouse exciting expectations of how Grencsó and Vandermark inspire one another and the other members of the Grencsó Collective Special 5 formation. Although the circles of the two saxophonists have already met earlier, they did not meet personally before this CD. (Benedek Kruchió deserves lasting credit for organizing the first meeting.) Grencsó Collective Special 5 is made up of excellent musicians. Keyboard player Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer and bassist Benkő Róbert have been Grencsó’s fellow warriors since the 1980s, but percussionist Miklós Szilveszter and bassist/bass guitarist Hock Ernő are also founding members in the various Collectives, with their differing line-ups. One strength of all the musicians is that they are able to adapt to the musical material envisioned and to each other.

In the opening number of the CD Vandermark and Grencsó greet us with a tenor sax duo improvisation, assuring listeners that they have tuned in to one another. The title composition by Grencsó (Do Not Slam The Door!) recalls the musical world of Flat [Síkvidék]. At the beginning we hear the pulsing of the basses, behind it a piano chord and a hand stroking the length of the piano strings, accompanied by a few broken rhythms on the drums, then the main theme appears on the clarinet and flute. Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer arrives with a beautiful, multilayered piano solo, and passes the baton to Grencsó on the flute. His runs full of tension are wonderfully supported by the rhythm section and the piano. Vandermark takes up this thread, shining brilliantly on the clarinet, raising the music on high with the accompaniment. Fürt [Bunch] is a short, spontaneous piece (we might call it a nocturne) for clarinet, piano, and bass. The first Vandermark composition on the CD, Függöny [Curtain], is a whirling, striking number, in which we first hear a gallop on the alto sax from István Grencsó, then Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer, who in the whole recording is extremely inspired and in top form, exerts a bold ritardando, then in an unaccompanied solo builds on assymmetric bars to return to the original tempo. Finally Vandermark on tenor sax is “pursued” by the rhythm section, and the proliferation of sound that counts as their trademark concludes the piece. Csak te hallhatod… [Only You Can Hear It…] is a piece of sound-embroidery the size of the palm of your hand, made of rustling, knocks, and whisps of melody.

The Himnusz születésnapra [Hymn For A Birthday] is another Grencsó composition. Already in the introductory slow theme we can feel the tension.

The clarinet solo continues the thoughtful, balladic thread, and the tenor sax joins at the end with increasingly tormented scales unravels the tension. Knowing Ken Vandermark’s strong attachment to contemporary art, we can assume that his piece Running Fence is an hommage to Christo and Jeanne- Claude’s land art piece by the same name. The composition has a complex structure. Against the initial restrained sustained notes on the winds, accompanied by a knocking on the drum, a stepwise melody builds up on the bass, the piano joins, preparing the ground for the clarinet, which whips up the tempo. They react to this with vigorous swing, and the piano gives a new character to the whole with dissonant runs. After paired solo of the two basses the flute enters. The fact that Vandermark is present in all his capacities, on the tenor sax, the clarinet, and the bass clarinet, gives Grencsó the opportunity to use the flute more often as a further colour. In a memorable solo he shows how the instrument can be incorporated into the “free” sound. It Is Darkening and And Then, Whatever Happens Will Happen are both collective improvisations. The first is a chamber piece for bass and saxophone, and in the second we can observe the just how far the border between composed and spontaneous pieces is blurred in contemporary music falling under the umbrella of jazz. The CD closes with a genuine surprise. Despite the differences of the first nine pieces, they can be positioned somewhere on today’s palette of avant- garde – free jazz. Let Thy Will Be Done is a musical meditation that provides an insight into István Grencsó’s inner and new creative world. This composition demands precision from the performers, uses few notes, and could be said to be minimalist; it is state-music, which does not move in any given direction, and could actually be played for any duration of time. In it, inner peace embraces silence.

All the performers on this CD give the best of their artistic qualities. The listener may rest assured that there will be a continuation to this collaboration.

Zsolt Németh
Translated by Richard Robinson