Artist: Szilard Mezei

Date of Release: 13/01/2014

Catalogue no: SLAMCD550

Label: SLAM

Price: £16.99

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Szilárd Mezei International Improvisers Ensemble
Mezei’s biggest project – two and a half hours of music by 23 international musicians recorded in Novi Sad, Serbia, January 2012. Mezei in complete control with baton and viola, conducting a majestic performance. Hungarian/Serbian Mezei has justifiably attracted highest praise and appreciation from critics and his listeners. Viewed by many as the successor to the late Hungarian composer György Szabados, his music like that of Szabados and Bartok before him, draws on the strengths of the Hungarian folk music tradition.
The music on these two CDs is a great example of his integration of composition and improvisation.
“Karszt” is Mezei’s fourth CD on SLAM.




16/07/2015 Grego Applegate

Once again we encounter jazz composer-instrumentalist Szilard Mezei with an ambitious recent two-CD set of his music for the International Improvisers Ensemble, Karszt (Slam 550). This is a large group with a rather unique instrumentation. Szilard leads the ensemble on viola. The rest of the band consists of some 22 mostly European improviser-players, including a saxophone quartet, trumpet, two trombones, three flautists covering piccolo, standard flute, alto flute and bass flute, piano, acoustic guitar, violin, cello, four double basses, marimba, vibes and two drummers!
What could be in other hands a rather cumbersome totality breathes and freely levitates thanks to Mezei's compositional and orchestrational sensibilities. He handles it all so that both the overall and sectional colorations come to the forefront in ever varying possibilities. The melodic lines have a long-form variability that may well be one of the more distinctive approaches out there in the large-band free avant jazz zone. Those melodic sequences allow for improvisational statements both inside their sounding and between, or alternately serve as ostinatos underpinning the improvisations or counter-lines.

Eight compositions fill the two disks, some quite lengthy, some shorter, but all of definite interest. Mezei is a very respectable free-form violist but there are many other improvisors featured here as well and they certainly come through with appropriate lines, individually and collectively.

First and foremost, though, this is a very worthy example of Mezei the sound innovator, the creator of original big band music that has the free avant elements but are put to use to realize Mezei's special vision.

Karszt shows Szilard Mezei at his best, progressing forward, creating his own momentum with a stylistic clarity and singularity. I very much recommend you listen. As you need to begin somewhere in exploring Mezei's way, this is a great place to start!

Grego Applegate 16/7/2015


26/05/2014 Rotcod Zzaj

KARSZT: Our improvising friends at SLAM Productions are constantly sending new & exciting music our way for review! This 2-CD set captures over two hours of very interesting music performed in Serbia (January 2012). The opener, “Hep 20“, is the perfect place to start this sonic adventure, especially if improvised is not your regular “flavor” of music; this tune has a really strong flavor of orchestral, yet achieves the goal of being fully improvised. My personal favorite track has a bit more leaning towards what you might call “big-band improv”…. “Jugoplastika” is one of the most intriguing improvised pieces I’ve listened to in the last five years. I give this monster improv set of works a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98. Get more information at the SLAM Productions website. Rotcod Zzaj http://rotcodzzaj.com/wordpress/?page_id=4706


19/05/2014 Ken Waxman

Following a recent series of small group CDs, Hungarian-Serbian violist Szilárd Mezei revisits large ensemble writing and arrangement with a two-CD set of compositions for a 23-piece band. Working in an idiom that draws on Jazz-inflected improvised music, reconstituted folklore and echoes of so-called classical music, Karszt’s main reference points are actually itself – or Mezei’s other music. More crucially though, when the exultant sounds produced here are examined, it’s clear that he has created one possible path for advanced 21st century composition.
Although the orchestra includes no less than nine players of chordal instruments plus seven woodwind or brass players, the most consistent interface depends on contrasts between the elastic percussion tones of marimba and vibraphone verses the soaring, unison voicing of various members of the flute family. Consistent with his comprehensive musical stance, although there are identified solos during the CD’s eight mostly extended tracks, not one is lengthy enough to define itself outside of the composition.
Clocking in at more than 56 minutes, “Hep 20” becomes the de facto definition of Mezei’s art. Encompassing motifs which morph from straight-laced processional to willowy melancholy to spidery and rhythmically balanced the narrative is, by necessity, taffy-like in its structure, able to be yanked and stretched every which way without breaking. Throughout distinctive tutti orchestral sections prolong the thematic rows, underscoring incursions and propel tones to the next juncture.
A climax of sorts is reached one-third of the way through as scrubbed bass lines and percussion pops give way to a profound Jazz interlude with saxophonists Péter Bede and Gergő Kováts challenging one another, while flute peeps and trombone slurs color the background. Neo-classical string squeezes with near-baroque repetition, plus thickened percussion sputters keep the narrative balanced and stable until a much later incursion – this time from Ádám Meggyes’ hocketing trumpet and plunger slurs from trombonist Branislav Aksin and Jens Balder – combine to nearly wrench the program into prolonged, agitated multiphonics. Brightly voiced ensemble passages soon return thematic integrity, strengthened by bird-like flute chirps and resonating slaps from Ivan Burka’s marimba and Jelena Raskolvi?’s vibraphone. Musical symmetry is maintained until the finale, as various instrumental groups and duos solo then retreat, most notably between one piccolo player and Béla Barany’s baritone sax. With eminent logic, the cumulative excitement-maintaining textures fading out following a sequence which could be from a fife-and-drum duo.
Other selections show off the breath and versatility of the ensemble in interpreting Mezei’s other compositions. Polish-born Frédéric Chopin would probably have been puzzled by the lack of keyboard flourishes on the violist’s “Chopin emlékére/In Memory of Chopin”. However the piece is able to stand on its own. If Máté Pozsár’s pianisms are relegated to comping or clanking, the sophistication of the other solos makes up for that. With bassist Joel Grip’s staccato rubs and percussion clip-clops setting the pace, Gergely Ittzés’ flat-line, almost unaccented flute pulses, Raskolvi?’s slow-paced vibes and Burka’s similarly tempo-challenged marimba, plus soaring sax sequences from Bogdan Rankovi? and Kováts, promote a spirited climax.
More distinctively Pozsár comes into his own on “Kéreg/Bark” where his dynamic outpourings on the keys bring forth memories of Cecil Taylor’s meetings with expanded bands. Balanced like many of the other tracks here on jittery metal bar smacks and chirping flute family expressions, multiple echoes enter the composition. Although the tenor saxophone solioists work themselves into throaty Archie Shepp-like growling at points with answering verbal cries, the compositional architecture depends just as much on quivery plucks from the string section plus distinctive mariachi-like brass toots.
Mezei once again demonstrates his skills as a composer and arranger during the almost 2˝ hours of music here. Besides this high quality project, one would hope he has more chances to broaden his canvas in similar fashions in the future.
—Ken Waxman http://www.jazzword.com/one-review/?id=128489 19/05/2014


03/02/2014 Ken Cheetham

The sleeve notes even list the order of solos, but you don't need that here and I suspect that for many of us, the musicians are little known: I believe I have heard something of Bogdan Rankovic and Gergő Kováts before, but do not recall the context. I have spoken of categorization in other reviews and although I don't want to dwell on that, I would like to say that the piece Hep
20 on CD 1 really does start out in a modern, classical, chamber format, albeit a large chamber, but by half-way through modern jazz composition takes over, then seems to yield once again to a classical style. There is also an overriding feeling that there should be voices in there, especially after listening to Erika Dagnino's Signs. The two albums are not in the least alike, but the sombre moods of this mammoth production are perhaps looking for a statement. It is indeed a truly multifaceted composition and arrangement.

The title track Karszt starts out in an even more sombre mood, very cinematic, very sinister. Then it develops into passages which are much lighter in weight, plucked and bowed strings echoing sounds of folk music from Eastern Europe.

The second CD largely consists of shorter tracks around the 15minutes mark and these reveal a closer proximity to jazz, especially Kéreg,
which delivers a vital, jazz-orchestrated swing that illustrates just how much power there is in this ensemble. It also demonstrates the influence of arrangements by Carla Bley, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. Throughout the whole of this imposing work though, the creative authority
of Anthony Braxton's compositional technique has been of the essence. This is a magnificent work, worthy of much of your time.

Reviewed by Ken Cheetham http://jazzviewscdreviews.weebly.com/ Feb 2014


17/01/2014 Dave Sumner

Szilard Mezei International Improvisers Ensemble, Karszt: This sprawling production fully encompasses the odd melodic expressions of violist Mezei, though this time with an expansive viewpoint via the orchestra of his large ensemble. Recorded live, his take on Hungarian folk music in a jazz orchestration framework is both avant-garde and strangely listenable. Dave Sumner


20/12/2013 Bruce Lee Gallanter

(Slam 550; UK) The ever-ambitious and highly prolific (two dozen
discs so far) Hungarian violist and multi-bandleader, Szilard Mezei
is back with his largest ensemble yet. The International Improvisers
Ensemble consists of 24 musicians: seven reeds, three brass, three
strings, piano, acoustic guitar, four double basses and four
percussionists. Mr. Mezei composed the music and directs this large
ensemble. The music is extraordinary and you can tell that this was
challenging endeavor. "Hep 20" is a long (56 minute) work with the
entire orchestra moving in a series of waves or layers. The vibe or
overall sound reminds me of the spiritual music of Penderecki but not
nearly as dark. I can hear chanting in my mind going along with
criss-crossing currents. There are sections when it is stripped down
so that certain musicians can solo, rising slowly above the waves.
Mezei uses the vibes and/or percussion to punctuate the movement or
currents as they swim, sail or soar. The music evolves slowly, taking
its time to work its way through different section. One part has a
"Ghost Trance"-like repeating section, although it doesn't last that
long (unlike Braxton) and builds quickly. Besides about a half dozen
musicians who have appeared on previous Mezei sessions, the only name
I do recognize is bassist Joel Grip who has worked with Gary Thomas
and Axel Dorner, a combination to be sure. With some three flutists
and four other reeds players, it is nearly impossible to tell who is
soloing. Not that it matters very much since all the music is so well
organized and played. Considering that this two disc set is nearly 2
1/2 hours long, it does take some time to fully appreciate its depth,
spirit and layers of creativity. I would hope that some of you take
the time explore this major opus, it is an immensely well-crafted
masterwork that will reveal more as you dig deeper into its vast world. - Bruce Lee Gallanter,DMG Newsletter 20 December 2013


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