Rarely will you find musicians that sound grave — even in the midst of heated improvisation — in the same way as Szilárd Mezei and cohorts do. One greets the Septet as a group of consummate instrumentalists — able to flick all the switches between free jazz, reworking of folk materials and chamber arrangement — who never give a smile the chance of lighting up their faces. Such are the solemnity and total lack of unserviceable divertissement defining the 76 minutes of 100 Tű Hossza (translatable from Hungarian as “Length Of 100 Needles”). The suite was recorded at Cologne’s Loft in 2010 and is entirely permeated by a rigorous intensity that might be hard to translate on the basis of an absentminded approach. That strenuousness represents the proof of a spiritual/cerebral engagement seldom observable in comparable settings.
A key attribute of this work is sheltered in the leader’s willingness to allot “solo areas” to each member, all of them brilliantly keeping away from commonplaces that could have caused a drop-off in curiosity. Cellist Albert Márkos opens “Elveszett Vizpart” with an impressive blending of hearty intuition and atonality, whereas tubist Kornél Pápista’s interventions head off the effortless routes of cartoon-ish humor (often associated with his instrument) to place the kernel of the phrasing halfway through purposeful timbral globosity and babbling unevenness of the “right” type. Particular credit must be granted to the excellent selection of counter-patterns, accent shifts and resilient tenseness by István Csík, a drummer bracketing bouncy propulsion and commendable accuracy without apparent effort.
As always noticeable in his scores, Mezei — whose solitary materializations on the viola comprise symbols of a special natural ability — is well aware of the value of dynamic change, knowledgeably establishing points of (relative) relief when required. The band seems to calm down on cue during brief snippets of the title track, only to leave Bogdan Ranković’s reeds rekindle the fire with fiercely classy explorations of the “disruptive stream”. When they regroup after the soliloquies, or launch a new exercise in difficult-to-memorize themes (“Metal Cat” is quite toothsome and even enticing in that sense, while the emotionally affecting “Szakadó Szakadó” gathers Dedication Orchestra scents and Eastern flavors), the little man from Vojvodina emerges once again as one of the genuinely great voices of the European scene.