From the opener, a reworking—both lovely and cooking—of Bach's “Bourree,” through standards as well as three compositions from Dudas himself, there is not a weak element on this session. It takes the form of a quartet on five of the tracks and a quintet on the other five. Yet one keeps hearing more. A trombone seems to appear on one track, but this is clearly a matter of clever voicing (by a soprano sax, no less!). With an ensemble sound that has many different tonalities, this CD also offers compelling individual musicianship.
Lajos Dudas and his confreres are musicians of the first order. Dudas is a Selmer artist and his liquid, fully realized sound provides fortunate testimony for Selmer! Guitarist Van Endert evokes Gabor Szabo's fascinating “dark wine” colors. The arrangements are imaginative and engaging (as fresh and as efficient as, say, JJ Johnson's charts for “JJ and Kai” or the lovely intertwinings of the fabled Jimmy Giuffre 3). All five musicians make this work. Nobody just accompanies. And, yet in some ways, they all do.
In addition to Bach's “Bouree,” Nightlight also offers “Sunday Afternoon,” a slow, languid waltz from Dudas where he plays his solo with just a bit of bite. Fore and aft of the solo, Dudas and Van Endert play off one another at certain points and play parallel lines elsewhere. “The Lady is a Tramp” is almost a boogaloo vamp verging on free, where Dudas plays the head straight but always with that gorgeous tone and his unfailing, loose-jointed rhythmic sense. Dig the in-the-pocket comping of Gjakonovski and Billker.
If one standard works, why not two? “All of Me” reminds me of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 as Dudas is joined here by Gerd Dudek playing soprano. It's a trio treatment with just Van Endert along for comping and some fine lines of his own. Dudas solos first but accompanied only by Van Endert. Then Dudek takes a fluid soprano solo with more from Van Endert underneath. Even with the elements pared way down, this music cooks relentlessly. The noteworthy aspect is that it remains simultaneously light and yet authoritative.
The simplicity of Dudas' “Folksong” opens with a darker sonority. An atmospheric piece (still with that ever-present pulse), Bill Evans' “Recife” could be a sountdtack that fairly begs for someone to shoot a film that matches up. The economy of the arrangements on all these tunes stands out. It is here that the mysterious phantom trombone-that-isn't-there seems to be part of the ensemble. It evokes Brookmeyer with the Giuffre 3. Trane's “Like Sonny” is a guitar-clarinet-bass trio. Dudas on clarinet offers an alternative to Trane's soaring, authoritative tenor that seems to work fine here, albeit quite differently than the tune's original incarnation. While taking nothing from Billker's tasty drumming on tracks where he plays, it's obvious that the group itself has an uncanny rhythmic sense built in.
“Filthy McNasty” might seem an unlikely choice for a group whose instrumentation and approach appear (on the surface at least) to fall well outside the hard bop or mainstream DNA of this tune. Not to worry. Dudek's flute lead with Dudas' clarinet voiced underneath seems to deliver the requisite raunchiness called for in this soul-food classic. The CD ends with Dudas' “Bagpiper,” a freer, less structured outing than the preceding tracks on this fine disk. Each player gets a chance to stretch out and play unaccompanied before the ensemble returns to the head to take it on home.
This is a "master" level outing. It is significant musically, it is beautifully recorded, and it is entirely listenable (this reviewer has played it in the car, while doing office work, and even during dinner!)
(Note: although this is a German release, it's readily available, as are three prior Dudas CDs listed in the liner notes.)
Track Listing: Bouree (BWV 966), Sunday Afternoon (Dudas), The Lady is a Tramp, All of Me, Folksong (Dudas), Journey to Recife (Bill Evans), Like Sonny (Trane), I'll Remember April, Filthy McNasty (Horace Silver), Bagpiper (Dudas).
Personnel: Lajos Dudas, clarinet, Gerd Dudek, soprano sax, flute, Philipp VanEndert, guitar, Martin Gjakonovski, bass, Kurt Billker, drums
Visit Lajos Dudas on the web at www.lajosdudas.de .