Szilárd Mezei





















From the very beginnings of his musical activity, Szilárd Mezei (born in 1974) appears both as an instrumentalist and composer (and a conductor of ensemble). He has searched for his creative landmarks in the avant-garde tendencies of classical music, as well as, primarily, in free jazz (in the direction given to the latter by Anthony Braxton), that is, in a broader sense, in improvisation. His creative development has been influenced by the fact that these beginnings took place in the environment of the theatre (in the early nineties, Mezei was writing and performing music for the performances of the theatrical ensemble AIOWA, then for the Jel Színház and other formations of the already famous Hungarian-French stage-manager and dancer József Nagy, who also shares his origins with Mezei, being a member of the Hungarian national minority in Vojvodina, the autonomous region of Serbia), which brought Mezei into a direct relationship with the performance side of music and the possibility of its staging.
The substantial and ideological tendencies of Mezei’s rich creativity are hardly comprehensible without a certain acquaintance with his extraordinary erudition, the spirit of research based on the spiritual world of the primordial Tradition, but also on modern art and its revolt against the “measuring of the world” carried out by the rationalistic mind of the West. This spiritual background already ostensibly reveals itself in the symbolic titles of Mezei’s albums and compositions, but, of course, in his texts and interviews as well. The ideological soundness of the work of the Hungarian thinker Béla Hamvas (1892-1968), the great works of Béla Bartók (1888-1946), and among living composers the musical dignity (which unites the endeavours of these two Hungarian geniuses) of György Szabados, offer Mezei an interior basis which gives direction and force to his own musical efforts.
Orientation towards the Tradition leads Mezei, in his primary role as jazz musician, to a reinterpretation of the jazz tradition, replacing that which in the history of jazz represents the African heritage and the tradition of “black America”, by the–in the European context–extremely lively and peculiar tradition of Hungarian folk music, as well as by the music of the great Oriental sacral traditions. So no wonder that it is, notwithstanding all this, very difficult to foresee what Mezei will do next: his jazz is genuinely inspired by the great achievements of modern classical music (as well as Bartók, one must also mention Lutoslawski), as well as by the original folk tradition. One thing however is sure: for now, we won’t find in Mezei any trace of the nowadays very popular “post-fusion” jazz tunes, no experimentation with electronic pop-music, hip-hop or noise-rock!
All that we have said up to now makes us realise the specific programmatic character of this music. This character derives not only from the ideological richness of Mezei's creativity, but often from its (the music's) predestination for the stage as well. Mezei's scenic imagination had the luck to be continually developing due to the stimulating creative cooperation with artists like his sister, the actress and stage-manager Kinga Mezei, then with András Urbán, Tibor Várszegi, as well as with József Nagy already mentioned. As if this continual contact with the stage reflected itself on the orchestration and the musical dramaturgy of his compositions, in which we sometimes find a real “distribution of the parts”, and the musical dialogue and monologue–of which the latter is so typical of jazz–assume here, in the strict sense of the word, dramatic proportions!
For the recording of the album Sivatag/Desert, in November 2006. in Novi Sad, in the studio “Vilenjak”, Mezei managed to assemble ten musicians, mostly the members of his own ensemble and of some other formations. The musicians are divided into pairs: 2 flutists, 2 clarinettists, 2 brass winds (trombone, tuba), 2 strings (viola, cello) and a rhythm section (bass, percussion). One of the very concrete reasons for such an orchestration is the participation in the ensemble of the excellent Hungarian flutist Gergely Ittzés (with whose playing Mezei became acquainted in 2005 while playing with him within the scope of Szabados's ensemble MAKUZ).
The title of the first composition Warszawa Sketch reveals one of the sources of inspiration for this album: in October 2006 Mezei travelled to Poland with József Nagy's theater ensemble (where they performed a play “Philosophers” inspired by motifs from the stories of Bruno Schulz), and this brought him into closer contact with the kindred spirit of Lutoslawski, but also with the inspiring richness of Polish jazz and Polish modern theatre. In its dramaturgy, this composition leaves considerable space for free improvisation by the whole ensemble; by means of a rich variety of “non-regulated” noise, by the excellent use of silence and subdued sounds, Mezei stages the mysterious, obscure atmosphere of an impressive vision. The musical content reveals itself mostly in the deep, fractured noise and creaking of the Ervin Malina’s double bass that creates the principal musical-scenic mood of the composition. The melodic sequence appears only at the end, in the vigorous playing of the ensemble that finishes in a long decrescendo, as the music slowly quietens and is simplified until only the breath of the flute remains.
Vízfény (észak) / Waterlight (north) starts with the minimalistically gentle and dreamy multi-sonority of the winds; the instruments gradually attach one to another and after a few minutes the composition begins to roll in a multiple sound-layers. From the densely interwoven sounds the airy solo of the Svetlana Novakovic's flute detaches itself, to be extended by Ittzés (alto flute); as the composition approaches its end, Márkos's cello becomes prominent, giving a melancholy depth to the sonorous iridescences of the ensemble.
The title of the last and lengthiest composition, which also gave its name to the album–Sivatag/Desert–leads us, as do the titles of many other of Mezei’s compositions, to basic symbols, in this case in a range that spans from the sacral symbolism of the desert and its temptations to the waste horizons of contemporaneity. The polysemy reveals itself most evidently in the heterogeneous playing of the winds: the ear is faced with a constant alternation between the ethereal sound of Novakovic's and Ittzés's flutes, the fluid pensiveness of Asztalos's and Rankovic's clarinets, the unusual hollow sounds of Pápista's tuba and the stentorian sounds of Aksin's trombone. The composition can be divided into three movements of equal length, each one of them having its own theme, its own dynamics: while the first movement is all in rhythmical disjointedness (István Csík's unusual percussion–congos and bongos–immediately draws one’s attention!) to which the broken solo passages link themselves, the second movement is of a markedly meditative-Oriental character, due primarily to the winds: Novakovic's flute, Pápista’s tuba, and then Ittzés's flute which he exchanges for the piccolo during the solo! The third movement, in which there is a certain emphasis on (Hungarian) folklore motifs, attains–mostly by the entrance of the strings in the foreground (Mezei, viola, and Márkos, cello)–an ecstatic power of expression. The composition ends with the unison of two flutes. The horizon before us is closing – or opening?

Neven Usumovic, 2007