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Ferenc Nemeth: Openness for Triumph

Marta Ramon By

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Ferenc Nemeth's versatility has positioned him in the front line of jazz drummers today. This Hungarian percussionist has developed a recognizable sound which has, over the years, resulted in his sharing the stage with renowned international jazzmen like saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Mark Turner and Chris Cheek, bassist Christian McBride, bassist John Patitucci, vibraphonist Dave Samuels and many others.

When Nemeth sits in front of the drums his attention is completely focused on his colleagues' needs to lead the music towards an expected resolution. Nemeth's beat reflects the open mind of a musician who never tires of exploring new sounds and rhythms. This curiosity led him to India in 2012, so perhaps this awareness for getting in touch with new musical realities, blended with his classical background, is what gives him such a personal jazz language.

With Triumph (Dreamers Collective, 2012), Nemeth takes a step forward in his role as a composer on an album possessing a kind of symphonic structure. The drummer has also been touring in Europe recently with his friend, guitarist, Lionel Loueke, making a stop at the Jimmy Glass Bar in Valencia, Spain.

All About Jazz: What was the main challenge of Triumph ?

Ferenc Nemeth: The main challenge actually was to have all the people at the same time in the studio [laughs]. That was the hardest, because, all of these guys are very busy, and to get everyone at the same time was really hard: to arrange everybody in the same day in the same city. It was incredible; it almost took me a year to arrange that. Also, I was on a tour in Italy with Lionel and, at that time, there was the volcano eruption, so our flight was cancelled and we almost didn't make it to the studio. From Rome, we had to fly down to Morocco and then from Casablanca to New York. And, of course, our luggage got lost; half of my percussion was missing, Lionel's guitar effects were missing. So that's also why the sound of the guitar is very clean, because all of his equipment was missing.

AAJ: You are using a different group for this album.

FN: Yes, one of the most interesting parts is that there is no bass—it is played by Lionel or [pianist Kenny Werner. The CD has a lot of horns and woodwinds; Nicolas Sorin arranged them: clarinet, flute, trumpet, baritone...musically speaking, this is a little bit different than a normal jazz quartet because all of these things.

AAJ: This CD is a mix of different styles as a particular way to approach the different feelings you describe musically.

FN: Yes, that's where the emotional part comes in, exactly, because when I wrote the songs without thinking about the album, I was trying to capture different emotional feelings as they came true in life. They are emotional states that we all experience, and I tried to put them in music. And that's why you have the interludes, because they connect the ideas, they connect the different emotions to become a whole idea, like a symphony.

AAJ: "Hope," what a short tune...

FN: Yes [laughs]; it has the spirit, it is something that arrives and goes. You don't get anything, you just get hope.

Ferenc Nemeth—TriumphAAJ: You put together different musical temperaments: guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Joshua Redman and Kenny Werner. What does each musician bring to your compositions?

FN: Well, each musician is very different, and the people that I chose, they are all already fully developed musicians who bring their own experiences—living and musical. But they are also open enough to create something together and, for me, that is a very important point, because I wanted to have people who were really creative and strong musically but also open enough to create something different from what they normally do. And that's why music is different. Triumph doesn't sound like a Joshua Redman, Kenny Werner, or Lionel Loueke CD, because we all came together.

AAJ: Many critics have said that you are close to Max Roach in your rhythmic ideas. Do you agree?

FN: Of course; I can't say no to that, and not just Max Roach, I have a lot of influences, and they are all there. I am coming from something that happened before me, I am not creating music from the air. And, of course, I have been transcribing, and listening to music... so all the things they do come out.

AAJ: So with your background we can say you are between Béla Bartók and the great jazz drummers.

FN: [Laughs] Being Hungarian, of course, Bartók is a big influence, even if you don't want it to be. As a kid, from three years old, as soon as you enter kindergarten you start learning Bartók and Zoltán Kódaly. I also studied music out of school, so all that music work comes out.

AAJ: You are defined as a versatile musician, do you think is that your main quality?

FN: Yes, for sure. I think it is important, especially now, because the world has opened up—the last fifteen years especially. Before, it was really hard to be in contact with something, but now, with the Internet and social media, you can be connected with everyone all the time. And the music reflects what is happening now. I can go to YouTube and to listen to music from Ghana or anywhere in the world if I want. We have to be able to be open, to receive and to give as well. You have to be able to play what the music needs every moment.


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