No more doubts by now: when Szilárd Mezei writes for small ensemble he means business, although his output persistently conveys lucid versatility, analytic consciousness and sheer poignancy via alternative orchestral organizations.
The Septet was formed circa 15 years ago; this embodiment captured live in Serbia, April 2018 highlights the talents of Bogdan Ranković (alto sax, bass clarinet), Branislav Aksin (trombone), Máté Pozsár (piano), Ivan Burka (vibraphone), Ervin Malina (double bass) and István Csík (drums). Plus, of course, the leader's articulate viola imbued with microtonal pathos. The set includes eleven tracks, some of them renditions of pieces from previous albums. As per Mezei's habit, not many clues are given away in the shape of explanatory notes (moreover, he usually privileges his mother tongue whenever that happens).
The choice of letting the music speak for itself is OK with us. Véres Páncél is an excellent introduction to his maths of counterpoint, devoid of particular traumas for the unaccustomed listener. The scores are at once demanding and revelatory, the timbral distribution impeccable. The products of rigorously notated sections and heartfelt improvisations embrace indigenous reminiscences, unconscious resemblances and brand new ideas.
As the group shows its cohesiveness across atonal materials, the mind somewhat foolishly summons up random echoes of Frank Zappa's Uncle Meat. Then the zigzags are stopped to insist on a single cluster, or reiterate an unsentimental riff before splitting into soloist spots for individual skills to shine. A brief silence may follow the end of a segment and immediately something else materializes: a collective elegy led by Mezei's grieving tones, a swinging parallelism of melodic designs, an implicit dedication to someone we'll never know.
It's the acoustic synthesis of a productive microcosm surviving beyond grant-seeking alliances and media partisanship, not to mention jazz-tinged commonplace. The coexistence of technical brilliance and human decency is not a chimera; the little big man from Vojvodina keeps reinforcing our belief.
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