Waldeinsamkeit. This word takes a distinguished place among those vying in the competition for the German expression most difficult to translate. Usually described as “forest solitude”, it means far more than a stroll in the shadow of the trees with only one’s self for company. In the mid-nineteenth century the expression became a cult idea: it refers to the state experienced in the natural, presumably primeval wild, by a civilized person “returning” to the forest. In the Romantic imagination, the forest assumed many forms, both attractive and formidable, the home of both the fairies and the demons.
During the nineteenth century it became for many a symbol of withdrawal from society. This in part was at work in the American philosopher-poet Henry David Thoreau (1816–1862) when, having completed Harvard College, he decided to leave civilization behind. Between 1845 and 1847 he lived in a small hut in the forest, on the shores of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. He recounted his two-year, two-month, and two-days life in the wild and the philosophical consequences of the experience in the cult book Walden, published in 1854, in which he wrote: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
When the percussionist András Dés decided to record his latest album in the forest, he was guided primarily not by a desire to make a social critique, or by philosophical considerations, but by musical curiosity. He does of course implement the Thoreauvian programme, in the sense that nature, functioning as a sound studio, forced him “to front only the essential facts of music”. On this disc, everything is essential. The murmurs of the forest become music, and the music becomes part of the forest. And just like Thoreau, the musicians have learned much from the woods. “It was a very interesting process of self-discovery,” says András Dés. “I had some ideas about what to expect, or rather what not to expect, but actually it was a jump into the deep end. I left my instruments at home and metaphorically speaking I went to the forest completely ‘naked’. I played only objects that I found there in the forest: trees, stones, leaves, pine cones, snails’ shells, the ground, and of course I used my own body as an instrument.”
During the two-day recording session in the Bakony hills (Northwest Hungary), the main thing the forest taught the musicians was to always be prepared for anything to happen. Ultimately, this should be the basic principal for all improvisatory genres, but in this case the issue was far more clear-cut: “On the first morning in the forest I collected lots of objects that made a good, exciting sound” recounts András Dés, “but then rain fell, it poured all day, and when it had finally eased off, and we could finally start making music, everything sounded completely different.” But changing the circumstances of the recording at the last minute wasn’t the forest’s only means of instruction (like a nasty elderly producer: “let’s see if these youngsters can cope with this”); it offered also a special acoustic medium.
As the first one to listen to the CD, what struck me was how different the attention the musicians gave one another compared to traditional jazz albums: the way they listen to one another, and react to each other’s gestures, is almost palpably intense. We might of course explain this by simply saying that four outstanding musicians are making music together. András Dés’s partners are Márton Fenyvesi, the guitarist-producer at home in all genres; saxophonist János Ávéd, who writes his doctoral thesis about twelve-tone improvisation; and double bassist Mátyás Szandai, who lives in France and moves freely between musical cultures. One of the factors in their particularly high standard of ensemble playing is that they had to play not in the milieu of a studio which met their every need, but in the middle of a forest. They seem to have been far more dependent on one another than usual, and this has done the world of good for the disc. For this we have the forest (the elderly producer) to thank.
The CD features compositions by András Dés alternating with completely free improvisations, and varied though these are in tempo, character, and sound-world, they are linked by more than just the person of the composer and the intense chemistry between the four musicians: none of the tracks moves outside a certain dynamic range. There are no explosive climaxes, and the four musicians constantly keep the music in a state of near-climax even in the quietest moments. They seem to have stretched the moment prior to boiling point, to occupy all fifty minutes of the CD. And whatever András Dés may say about the disc not having been intended as a social critique, the listener cannot help but associate what is played in a forest, the cradle of nature, to the world: we are in the twenty-fourth hour, the last moment before collapse.
Just like András Dés’s previous album (András Dés Trio: The Worst Singer in the World, BMC CD 241), this album too can be listened to as one uninterrupted process: indeed, it should be. “Cautious Party”  is a kind of overture: as if the leaves transmitted the sound of approaching steps, then the saxophone is heard in the distance, playing motifs resembling hunting horn calls, trying to find their way, steadily they become more intense, then the guitar enters, giving a rhythmic profile to the hitherto freely swelling melody, and free improvisation  leads into the “Music for Brokers” , a world of harsh broken rhythms. Improvisation and composed music meld imperceptibly one into the other (the composed part of “Music for Brokers” starts only after about two and a half minutes), and the piece seems to be less for brokers and more about them: about the cruel over-civilized world without nature, which makes it so good to retreat into the woods. Let’s go further, still deeper into the forest, where life sings, as in the title of the next track: “Life Sings On” . The continuous swell of uninterrupted murmuring music seems like a natural phenomenon even without the forest’s “percussion instruments”. Our journey takes us to meet Pan , the forest god who sings with such abandon, then a heavily chromatic song takes us to a “Ghost Town” .
“Dora’s Song”  is like a clearing in the midst of the woods: it prompts us to pause (as the music itself stays for a while on a D major chord) and a pause invites us to think. For me, this music is a confession of love, or a reckoning; perhaps it is both. Behind the flickering excursions into other keys the homely security of D major can always be sensed, a place to return home any time. The penultimate track “Long Distance Relationship” , seems to be the opposite of the previous one: while that is nothing but calm, this is nothing but motion; while that was nest-building, this fidgets. The restrained tempo, character, and freedom of the epilogue  rhyme nicely with the opening track: we have come to the end of our journey.
And here something quite extraordinary happens, right at the beginning. The guitar and saxophone play a phrase in unison, to which somewhere high up, birds reply (from 0:03), then when the same motif is played again, András Dés responds in exactly the same rhythm (from 0:21) as the birds did a couple of seconds previously. I don’t know whether András Dés heard the birds, or whether he instinctively became an integral part of the forest, but either way: this moment is marvellous, and could not have come about without the astounding work of Viktor Szabó, the sound engineer and effectively fifth member of the band. And as to why the title of the CD is einschließlich? “It’s a beautiful word”, says András Dés, giving an obvious explanation, and one difficult to argue with. He moved with his family from Budapest to Vienna in 2018, so lately his mind has been occupied familiarizing itself with wonderful German words such as this. But of course, there is far more than behind the choice of title. The word “einschließen” is just as difficult to translate (and just as beautiful) as “Waldeinsamkeit”. Its main meaning is “to close shut”, “to shut in” and in this case the prefix “ein” is extremely important, not to shut out, or exclude, but to shut in. This sheds light on the word’s secondary meaning too: “to encircle”, “to enclose”, “to include”. András Dés’s CD is like the forest: an enclosed space, which includes the entire world.
Translated by Richard Robinson