Dusted Reviews

Szilard Mezei International Ensemble Szilad Mezei International Ensemble - Draught

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Szilard Mezei International Ensemble Szilad Mezei International Ensemble

Album: Draught

Label: Leo

Review date: Feb. 2, 2006

The sight of the violin in a jazz context immediately calls to mind players like Stephane Grappelli and Billy Bang, if only because it is so rarely heard in the idiom. Even rarer is the viola, the Serbian-born, ethnic Hungarian Szilard Mezei’s choice. But Mezei is not about chops; he instead investigates how not only the viola, but also any instrument, fits into shifting improvisational contexts. His discoveries, at turns searing, swinging and graceful, are all present on the live document Draught, the debut recording of his International Ensemble.

The four pieces here show how the thirty-two year-old Mezei combines an ear for fetching themes - ones that roam between desolation, raunch, transcendence and romance - with a knack for ensemble arrangements that slip seamlessly from form to form, all the while throwing clever challenges at his eight-strong group. If all this sounds stiff, worry not, for Mezei is too steeped in Mingus, Ellington and Sun Ra to let that happen. The jaunt and strut of “In Step” is pure Mingus – collective rapture mashed with infectious swing and clothed in old-slipper familiarity. Jens Balder’s trombone solo towards the close of “That Dance” reminds us just how close the vocal growls of Ellington’s orchestra are to the more timbral gestures of the later avant-garde. The unified eruption that boils over at the close of “Female Boxing” channels all the discipline of Ra’s astro-charged ecstasy.

While the echo of those giants certainly reverberates, Mezei adds his own voice at every chance. Into his ensemble textures he weaves bass clarinet, a two-headed sax section, trombone, his own viola (here played mostly arco), piano, double-bass and drums. Bassist Ervin Malina and drummer Istvan Csik (part of a trio with Mezei) create the unstable core of the group, and their wild pulsating is the perfect counter-weight to the brokedown moan of loveliness the ensemble lets loose on “Breezy Draught”. In the more acerbic and cacophonous pockets of “Female Boxing”, they become a ramshackle motor that keeps the runaway train on the tracks.

The second fascinating feature of Mezei’s music stems from how he creates loose contexts for solo and ensemble improvising. His themes pit wavering harmonies against a maverick voice, and as a consequence soloists pick up on any strand as the pieces develop. Compare tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert’s rusty horn calls on the opening of “Breezy Draught” to pianist Svetlana Maras’ later narcoleptic fragments, or the split personality of “Female Boxing’s” extended opening.

Mezei also injects entirely new, often discordant themes in the middle of the sprawling “Chariot of Sun – That Dance” and “Female Boxing”. The tunes develop not as linear progressions, but as cloud-like collective memories, injecting uncertainty and surprise. “Chariot of Sun” veers from raucous locomotion to dirge to placid miasma over its twenty-four minute course, only to culminate in the tewo-tap syncopation of “That Dance”. Mezei’s bold and brazen music never fails to stimulate, meaning Draught overflows with revelations.

By Matthew Wuethrich

Read More

View all articles by Matthew Wuethrich

Find out more about Leo

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.