European Jazz Conference 2015: Hungarian Showcases

Henning Bolte By

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The second night opened with a performance of first-rate guitarist Gábor Gadó and his new quintet comprising Otto Rácz on hobo (and bassoon), saxophonist Kristóf Bacsó this time on alto, József Barcza Horváth on double bass and young drummer László Czizi subbing for one of the most well known Hungarian drummers, Elemer Balazs (1967) who was playing the same night at an Anglo-Hungarian meeting at London's 606 Club. Gabor Gadó is a unique and highly approved guitarist with great phrasing and timing. He is also a quite demanding leader what clearly could be sensed during the performance. The musicians apparently had to be highly alert and frequently had to adapt quickly in the moment. A unique elaboration of the group's music is the combination of electric guitar and hobo/bassoon. It provided beautiful passages within Gado's uncompromising, deep and cutting edge playing that wove chamber music elements through the music in intriguing, groove driven ways.

Like more Hungarian jazz musicians, reed player Mihály Borbély is very much dedicated to Hungary's indigenous music. As co-founder of the longstanding ethno group Vujicsic he took the interweaving of jazz and folk music to new heights. His last album featured two of Hungarian guitarist Attilla Zoller's famous pieces, "Hungarian Rhapsody" and "Gloomy Sunday." Pianist Áron Tálas as the youngest member in the band formed the rhythm section together with bassist Balázs Horváth experienced drummer István Baló who played in Dresch's group the night before. The quartet's music revealed a bright and powerfully driven more jazz inflected performance.

Presently István Grencsó's Open Collective is the cynosure of Hungary's free improvisation scene. The collective is a combination of seasoned musicians, as Grencsó himself and double bassist Róbert Benkő, and young musicians, as pianist Máté Pozsár, double bassist Ernő Hock and drummer Szilveszter Miklós. In its present installation the Collective operates with a double double bass line and double reed line consisting of Grencsó himself and unmistakable illustrious German bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall (Aki Takase, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Die Enttäuschung). Free playing if well done can make a difference. It can yield a quality that goes under the skin, swirl listener's senses and minds. It was exactly this what happened in abundance with great dynamics on the spur of the moment. The group has just released an album at BMC Records with the nice powerful title Rétegzene/Marginal Music.

The association of Hungarian music with cimbaloms, guitars and especially violins is a quite familiar one and not especially surprising. The way Luca Kézdy used her electrified violin in the next performance however was. She strummed it like a rhythm guitar or, aided by electronics and pedals, produced a screaming solo like on the electric guitar. However the core of her trio's playing were not these kind of effects. Rather, it was the fundament violinists as Jean-Luc Ponty or Michal Urbaniak built in the past that she extended. She extended and recombined the possibilities her forerunners created.

There are a lot of good violinists around nowadays. The performance of the trio was testimony that Kézdy has found and established her and her trio's very own place and profile. To make and keep it interesting and captivating an interlocking of simple pattern and elaborations has to be figured out and set into motion. It was captivating and exhilarating what she did with her trio of bass guitarist Dávid Szesztay and drummer Dávid Szegö. The trio toured neighboring countries and New York recently, joined by leading figure of free improvisation István Grencsó—a combination that would and could make a lot of sense.

Third Night

The last showcase night started with the Modern Art Orchestra (MAO) featuring Germany based expatriate saxophonist Tony Lakatos in its second set. MAO can be regarded the leading contemporary Hungarian big band. It has been founded exactly ten years ago by trumpet player Kornél Fekete-Kovács and has built up a substantial body of originals from which they played in its two sets. The MOA collaborated with Bob Mintzer, Dave Liebman, Kurt Elling, Wallace Roney, Rhoda Scott, Julian Joseph, Mike Garson, Silje Neergard and New York Voices. It premiered the piece "Paris-Dakar" by well-known Hungarian contemporary composer Péter Eötvös in Shanghai.

The orchestra revealed as an ensemble of high competence with a rich, shining sound. It rendered highly dynamic performances of well-arranged compositions of high quality. Tony Lakatos is an old warhorse of jazz, accompanying work and especially Big Band jazz. For more than 10 years until 1996 he was a member of Jasper van 't Hof's Pili-Pili group. Here he gave the music still more shining during the second set. It was rock solid and functional all over but not especially daring. It fully applied however to the young duo of vocalist Veronika Harcsa and guitarist Bálint Gyémánt. The duo has already made a name and has been signed by the German Traumton label and the Artribute agency. It had a showcase at this year's European Jazz Meeting at the JazzAhead conference in Bremen.

Harcsa is an amazingly versatile musician, a brilliant vocalist and gifted entertainer in the best sense. Her facial, vocal, gestural and musical expressions were mutually reinforcing. With her clear and supple voice she not only can get almost everywhere. She captures 'it' in an open smile and inviting gesture. It all happens in an almost effortless flow and a mildly stylized way. She has found her very own thing and performed it on a high level with great impact. What she was doing defies categorization and makes comparisons superfluous. Her performance not only had great variation but also unfolding, focusing, draught and pointedness, ending up in a great Indian flavored piece. Sometimes less vocal fireworks would make the soul of song even more present. Guitarist Bálint Gyémánt entered fully into the interior of the music interlocking intensely with Harcsa. What the duo is doing has its pop-sensitivities but these emerge from precious substance.

The finishing performance came from the brand-new three-generations Organic Trio of saxophonist Viktor Tóth comprising Tóth on alto, Mátyás Premecz on Hammond-B3 organ and 18 years old wonder-boy David Hodek on drums. Tóth is a highly accomplished musician internationally witness his numerous collaborations with among others Chicagoan drummer Hamid Drake, Berlin pianist Carsten Daerr, Belgium trumpeter Bart Maris or French guitarist Manu Codja. Mátyás Premecz (1982) is a key figure of Hammond-B3 organism in Budapest and runs a Hammond-B3 club and concert-series. Drummer Dávid Hodek (1997), a child prodigy from an ethnic Hungarian family in Slovakia, also played in the trio of pianist Béla Szakcsi Lakatos at the first night.

The set was played very competent and perfectly well with an impressing tone and versatility of all three musicians. It was quite entertaining especially at the end when Tóth entered into reggae regions. It was however all standard repertoire and so the farewell became a farewell light. It was nice and reason enough to take a trip along Tóth's BMC-albums, to check out the organ-player Premecz and have an eye/ear on young drummer Dávid Hodek.


Spending three full days at the BMC with its small-scale clarity, togetherness, friendliness and great facilities from library to gastronomy has been quite an experience and conducive for productive exchange. The showcases presented solid musicians and groups of high quality with an open fringe and lookout to (re)new(ed) perspectives and territories, especially Harcsa/Gyémánt, Santa Diver and Grencso's rejuvenated Open Collective. Drummer Dávid Hodek and reedist Kristóf Bacsó are musicians to keep an ear/eye on. Miklós Lukács, the joker, for sure will continue to enjoy audiences in new combinations. The performance of the ten constellations showed something about the dynamics and potentials Hungarian scene, a glimpse, a gate to enter through. Through the international collaborations not only BMC but in the first place the Hungarian musicians relate to and are connected with other interesting scenes in Europe or abroad. Hopefully the pulling will not only be unilateral as in the past but bilateral such that young musicians from the west and north find their way into the Budapest-scene as a new normality. The music called jazz anyhow is itself closely connected to migration and urbanization from its origin.


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