Albums are arriving for consideration in batches that have my poor postlady groaning down the sidewalk toward the mailbox. Today’s review is intended to be the start of the latest Rifftides attempt to catch up. (If the jazz record business is dying, it has a funny way of showing it.)
Daniel Szabo, Visionary (Fuzzy Music)
The liner essay in pianist and composer Szabo’s album, and the publicity surrounding its release, stress the music’s eclecticism. It is true that Szabo’s work reflects influences of jazz, classical and modern European music. But more striking is that the music has coherence and—for lack of a more exact term—a distinct personality. Szabo combines his piano, a woodwind sextet and a string quartet in scores that have consistent spirit and a point of view. The voicings across and within the horn and string sections, and the variety of rhythmic displacements, are advanced by a rhythm section sparked by the remarkable drummer Peter Erskine. Erskine’s cymbal splashes and brush work in the final extension of the Szabo composition “Floating” are at once compelling and relaxing. That is just one instance of his ability to imbue the character of a performance. Among the other stars in Szabo’s galaxy are saxophonist Kim Richmond, who shines on soprano sax in “Cosmic” and on alto in Szabo’s arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” the only composition in the album not by Szabo. Another Los Angeles veteran reedman, Bob Sheppard, solos with notable spirit elsewhere in the album on both flute and tenor saxophone. Sara Andon’s flute is an essential lead voice in several pieces, stunningly in the album’s closing piece, “Underwater.” Szabo (pictured right) discloses in his liner information that his “Cosmic” was “Inspired by the adagio movement of Bela Bartok’s 2nd Piano concerto. That is an acknowledgement of the importance in Szabo’s life of the Hungarian homeland where he began his musical journey. He studied in the US at the New England Conservatory. His doctorate in music is from the University of Southern California. Now a thoroughgoing Californian, he teaches at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music.