Balance : JÁNOS ÁVÉD - MÁRTON FENYVESI - ÁKOS BENKÓ for we know in part
With the Balance trio’s second album, János Ávéd placed the emphasis on the art of listening. Not merely in the music sense of the word: the band leader-saxophonist has encapsulated his whole basic attitude as a human being and artist into these compositions, which thus point far beyond the musical areas bounded by a notated score. “Am I open enough to partake?” This question lies behind the compositions throughout, and invites the listener to pay deep attention, to take part, similar to that with which the composer himself busies himself in the world, and which he shares with guitarist Márton Fenyvesi and Ákos Benkó on this new album.
János Ávéd – saxophone
Márton Fenyvesi – guitar
Ákos Benkó – drums
About the album
All compositions by János Ávéd, except track 8 by Márton Fenyvesi and tracks 2, 4 by Balance
Recorded live by Viktor Szabó at Opus Jazz Club in BMC, Budapest on 15 November, 2018; 1 March and 28 April, 2019.
Mixed and mastered by Márton Fenyvesi
Artwork: László Huszár / Greenroom
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
Supported by the National Cultural Fund of Hungary
Balance: for we know in part
The album is available in digital form at our retail partners
An important teaching of Simone Weil, one of the most authentic mystics of the twentieth century, is that all acquirable knowledge is secondary – what really counts is to nurture our attention. For instance, whether or not we notice (not just diagnose) fallen people, the colours in white light, the substance in empty space, or the fullness of sound in silence. It is to this discovery of what lies beyond the senses that the new CD Balance invites the listener. Our everyday experience is, after all, eternally fragmented: the perfection located in the world of ideals cannot be possessed, and neither can divine knowledge.
for we know in part – runs the title, just so, with the transience of lower case letters. Opening a window onto the vista lying behind the title, the composer, János Ávéd writes: “People always want to surpass their own limits, to develop and be perfect. It is this desire alone that can speak the most luminously. But all my efforts are in vain; the truth and perfection of God are in a dimension which is infinitely other, one of which we are unworthy. I realized that what we try to attain through our own efforts will always remain finite and human. So actually the important thing is not what we do, but where our actions point to; and if something is truly good in music or in me, that inherently springs not from me: rather, it is something I receive.”
So if you will, this CD, with its every single note, every rest, and every silence, portrays the unattainable. The opening composition, for SW, in this sense is a formal metonym: through its complexity it demarcates the limits of the abilities of the band Balance. “It’s so difficult to play this composition without an error, that every time we have to go to our limits” says the band leader. Its complexity justifies the fact that unlike the other compositions on the CD, for SW was a studio recording, not a concert recording. music box had its genesis in free impro, and in this piece the emphasis shifts to the quality of attention and intensity of presence: “Can I listen well? Am I open enough to be receptive?” says the composer.
The composition talisman was inspired by a visit to the house of the Moorish king in Ronda, Spain. The shabby grandeur of this tourist sight reminded him that “without our realizing it, we strive for many material things, but basically it is not from talismans – money, career, safety, or comfort – that we draw strength”. In the composition this is manifested in a melody of a few notes, yanked around with electronic effects.
Another particular feature of this artistic position, rooted in an awareness of its fragment nature, is empathy, which nudges the artist to take an approach different to the customary one. This is what the composer uses in the composition drum music, in which he upends hierarchic, melody-centric western musical thinking, and setting out from a basis of rhythm, he composes from the point of view of a drummer, which here results in a rewarding part for Ákos Benkó. “Most times we think in terms of melodic themes. I thought I’d try and see what happens if I write a ‘drum improvisation’ and orchestrate it for melody instruments. This way, the drum solo has the effect of a real theme.” In the piece dialogue 3 János Ávéd continues a compositional technique from years ago, when with his fellow musicians he applied the rhythm and melody of the refined prosody of human speech to the band.
The track carolling (angel’s song of cheer) shines out with the simplicity of a candle flame at the geometric centre of the CD; just a whiff of the folk-like ballad atmosphere suggested by the title is recalled in the saxophone theme. As explained by the title, this melody reminded him of the atmosphere of carolling, known in some areas of Hungary as kóringyálás, part of the Christmas traditions: in this now neglected folk custom groups of village folk would go from house to house, greeting those inside in song. As city dwellers, in the solitude of the saxophone we hear not respect for tradition so much as the nostalgia for this community custom, as Ávéd's playing is sufficiently stylized so as not to create the effect of a popular art song. As to the extent to which he does not define himself as a musician with folk roots, this is made abundantly clear by the track electric 2 which follows carolling. In this Márton Fenyvesi, similar to a piece of the same name on an earlier CD, conjures up the sound world of rock using an arsenal of sounds from the effect pedal, yet in such a way that it serves the intimacy of the CD as a whole.
Behind these compositions, which show a diversity of genres, in the background like an invisible leading character, there is silence, and if we direct the focus of our attention properly, the blurred background may become the foreground. At the denouement of the album, János Ávéd raises silence to the status of absolute leading character. Not in the John Cageian sense, but much rather as Arvo Pärt thought of these empty spaces: “I could compare my music to white light, which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener,” he said, and if white light is taken as an allegory for silence, then he splices fullness into notes in what the Estonian maestro calls “the most sensitive of instruments”, the soul of the listener. Thus in the composition vaikus it is not the rests that articulate the music, but rather the notes strike point-like spikes, or road signs, in the broad, spacious silence that constantly rolls forth. With this reverse mode of thinking the content of the titles becomes transparent – because our knowledge is only partial – but also there is a solution to the dilemma Rilke expressed with these words: “It is terrible that we shall never know reality because of the facts”. The musicians of Balance have no wish to conceal reality with notes.
Translated by Richard Robinson