Mihály Borbély Quartet Miracles of the Night
Sketchy scores, poetic, artistic and philosophical inspirations, all given sonic form by the hands of the Borbély Quartet. Mihály Borbély puts his characteristic ethno-jazz sound in parenthesis, and shifts the emphasis from compositions notated in every detail towards freedom, even more so than on his earlier albums.
For BMC Records, this is the second album Mihály Borbély has recorded with the current lineup since Grenadilla in 2019, and the sixth album as a composer. Instead of the mood or dynamic character of the compositions, the title refers rather to the ideal situation of listening and engagement: this is music that requires contemplation. The wonders of the night are hidden, but those who listen carefully can discover the appearing shadows that inspire this album, from Jancsó to Pilinszky, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The quartet splashes in an ocean of improvisation, revealing a variety of musical colours, characters and even extremes, but without missing humour and drama.
Mihály Borbély – soprano sax (2,7,9), alto sax (12) and tenor sax (1), tárogató (3,5,11),
clarinet (6), bass clarinet (8), flute (4), dvojnice (10)
Áron Tálas – piano, drums (2)
Balázs Horváth – double bass
Hunor G. Szabó – drums
About the album
Compositions by Mihály Borbély (1, 3, 5, 9, 12); Mihály Borbély, Áron Tálas, Balázs Horváth, Hunor G. Szabó (4, 10);
Mihály Borbély, Áron Tálas, Balázs Horváth (2); Mihály Borbély, Hunor G. Szabó (6); Mihály Borbély, Balázs Horváth (8);
Mihály Borbély, Áron Tálas (11) and Áron Tálas (7)
Recorded by Viktor Szabó at BMC Studio, Budapest on 1-3 February, 2022
Mixed and mastered by Viktor Szabó
Artwork: Anna Natter / Cinniature
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
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Mihály Borbély Quartet: Miracles of the Night
The album is available in digital form at our retail partners
Human and fallible
‘Lost battles in the fields / Conquest in the air’ (János Pilinszky: Van Gogh’s Prayer)
“What you cannot trust to crumbling stone / model from the air’ (Sándor Weöres: The Eternal Moment)
‘The manuscript paper yellows, burns / The cyber cloud melts away / blow, then, into your instrument / your unique tones,’ So might we, following the thinking of the poets Pilinszky and Weöres, put these words into the mouth of Mihály Borbély, with second-rate doggerel, but fortunately we do not need to, because the saxophonist, with his fellow musicians, has expressed this far better through music. More precisely, he shows what ‘remains of us’ if we relinquish the compulsion to control. In Miracles of the Night Borbély lets go of the musician’s desire to compose something of everlasting value, and instead he seeks the moment in music, so difficult to predict, when the notes, like buds in spring, explode as the concentrated essence of life. To this end, he has abandoned many of his tried and tested musical tools; he puts his characteristic ethno-jazz sound in parenthesis, and shifts the emphasis from compositions notated in every detail towards freedom, even more so than on his earlier albums. In this CD, our woodwind musician trains himself, his fellow musicians, and the listener, to find a home in fleeting moments. This is a difficult request to make of listeners today, who paddle through waves of algorithms, and if they dislike something all they have to do is click on the next song which the densely woven world wide web has fished out of the musical ocean. Here in the ideal case listeners forget that they have control over how music is played, and they rediscover the power of consciously directing their own attention.
Borbély describes this album as ‘Evening, nocturnal music,’ from which we might conclude that it is a succession of soothing ballads. Not a bit of it. The evening mood here is not equal to slowness, and loss of tempo, but rather indicates a kind of inner ‘sunset,’ when you become able to be simultaneously receptive and creative, as in a prayer. No wonder that the band leader has made By Evening What Remains of Me the prologue to the album, the title of which refers to a poem by Pilinszky quoted at the beginning of this text, Van Gogh’s Prayer. Similarly to the lyrical basis of the poem, this composition starts as a monologue, with the saxophone feeling its way between the notes, until a harmonic instrument and a rhythmic accompaniment arrive, which give security, and are a kind of uplifting and supporting response to the question posed in the prayer. This is also the fine expression of how in music, an individual (however skilled and genius they may be as a musician) makes little progress without fellow musicians. This is the second album Mihály Borbély has recorded for BMC Records with the current lineup (Áron Tálas – piano, drums; Balázs Horváth – double bass, Hunor G. Szabó – drums) since Grenadilla in 2019, but he burdens them with greater responsibility and a more important role: ‘I wanted the whole of the CD to be very natural. Human and fallible. I used to think that the tracks had to be written in detail, so that the band could read exactly how to play from the notated score. My current working method is characterized by not just a definite concept but more varied notation, which I often supplemented with poetic, artistic or philosophical ideas, and I knew I could trust our well-integrated creative community to transform these musical processes in a productive manner,’ says Borbély. He doesn’t deny that it was the pandemic situation, the change in perception, that contributed to the change in concept. Not just in terms of how an advantage could be forged of uncertainty, but also of how we can immerse ourselves in an experience that is not about wallowing in stimuli. ‘Small things become much more important, if we can manage to observe them in depth’ he says. This minimalist approach crops up in the ballad No Train, No Station, whose English title is a playful reference to John Coltrane. Seven-and-a-half minutes long, the composer’s association for this piece, with its unusual chord progressions, is a wide-angle scene in an imaginary Jancsó film stretched out to infinity, in which a trembling feathergrass has a huge dramatic impact relative to the desolation of the landscape. This is all about proportions, and suggests an almost artistic mode of depiction.
In the piece Knocks… Halts… Shadow Beckons, the focus is on rhythmic construction: pointillistic sounds create a larger picture, prompting audiences to adopt a new perspective as they listen – just as the Impressionist painters did. In Nocturnal Sketches Mihály Borbély borrows the musical starting point and bass notes from Miles Davis (who is also a self-confessed painter); he re-paints these flamenco sketches with Eastern European colours and harmonies. Seen this way, the compositions born of free improvisation (including Calling Distances, Shadows, Awakenings, Is this Strange Too?, Nightmare, and Dawn Prayer), which make up a significant portion of the CD, are masterpieces of action painting! They are prints, as it were, from the immediate proximity of the artist, they encapsulate the essence of motion, the most authentic souvenirs of the moment, which sincerely reveal the chemistry that came into being on the day of the recording in the BMC Studio. In these improvisatory compositions there is the opportunity for all instruments, the tárogató, the shepherd’s pipe and double pipe, the soprano saxophone, gongs, and the bass and piano, to be played in a huge variety of ways. For the band members to continue this musical discussion in smaller chamber lineups, in duos and trios. The opportunity for humour, one that Áron Tálas exploits in one of his improvised pieces, a chance to flash striking colours, extreme dynamics, in other words for everything that would otherwise strain the five-line fence of the score. This musical sublimation might become boundless were it not for the counterpoint. Mihály Borbély’s generosity as a bandleader is shown by the fact that even apart from the free improvisations, he does not monopolize the position of composer, but this CD (like the previous one) also contains a composition by Áron Tálas. The piece The Waiting Itself, although its approach shows a more traditional attitude to jazz, and it is based on fixed structures, dovetails perfectly into the world outlined by Borbély, and confronts us with the same thing as the entire CD: to notice the beauty of being on a journey, and to immerse ourselves in the rhythm of empty moments of waiting. And the most wonderful thing about the night is that when we arrive at these sometimes perturbing, seemingly infinite silences, by that time dawn finds us, with birdsong recalling us to wakefulness. With the structure of this CD Mihály Borbély suggests to us the concept of eternal recurrence, when he chooses The Light is Calling, Gently Waking Me as the closing composition, in which the delicate balance between composed and improvised, between the lasting and the transient, seems to be achieved.
Translated by Richard Robinson