CSABA PALOTAÏ | STEVE ARGÜELLES Cabane Perchée
We will never know whether Bartók and Moondog bumped into one another in the 1940s on the streets of New York, but on this album Csaba Palotaï and Steve Argüelles give them a chance to meet. What we hear are studies for Bartók’s Mikrokosmos in the spirit of Moondog’s musical simplicity, on acoustic guitar and a percussion set consisting of objets trouvés, in such a way that a special harmony comes into being between desert blues, Hungarian and Balkan folk music, twentieth-century minimalism and contemporary light music.
Csaba Palotaï – acoustic guitar
Steve Argüelles – percussion, prepared acoustic guitars
About the album
Recorded by Viktor Szabó at BMC Studio, Budapest on 8-10 August, 2020.
Mixing and master: Steve Argüelles, Plushspace, Paris
Artwork: László Huszár / Greenroom
Producer: László Gőz / Label manager: Tamás Bognár
Supported by the National Cultural Fund of Hungary.
The album is available in digital form at our retail partners
MUSIC DEN WITH PANORAMA
When F. Schegel ventured to say “architecture is frozen music”, he was perhaps thinking of Bach, who wrote music that strives upwards in the Gothic manner, like the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, beside whose organ pipes he himself often raised his gaze heavenwards. But he certainly couldn’t have imagined that the comparison between architecture and music would be discovered (by a British-Hungarian musical duo living in France) between treehouses and what is basically an urban genre: jazz. (This is what the cabane perchéé of the title refers to – a treehouse). Talking of French culture, there were even heated debates around the reconstruction plans for Notre Dame, questioning whether it was worth restoring one of the symbols of this stronghold of Christianity the expense of felling trees hundreds of years old, given that in a sense, the forest too is a temple. Take the Hungarian guitarist Csaba Palotai, who has long been living and working in France, and his good British friend Steve Argüelles, a drummer and percussionist who also works as a producer and is at home in many genres. Together they look for the large in the small, the constructed in the natural, when they erect an edifice made of sound, which with the simplest means possible conjures up the musical memories of listeners accustomed to complex musical forms. This is no maquette though, more a life-sized musical structure that fulfils its function perfectly. When these two exceptional musicians moved in, they opened windows in two directions, and through them the same idea wafted through the house: “in an infinitely simple picture there can be everything of an infinitely complex world”.
One of the windows faces south, and looks from the Carpathian Basin across the Balkans all the way to Africa. In it appears a fragile, scholarly figure, with round-rimmed spectacles: it is Bartók, who took the things he learned on his fieldtrips on this geographical axis and was able to present them in a form comprehensible to learners in his series Mikrokosmos, and at the end of his oeuvre even sowed the seeds for minimalism. Three compositions excepted, Csaba and Steve have fashioned the supporting pillars of this treehouse from the pieces of Mikrokosmos. They make no attempt to hide these Bartókian pillars, but put them in the place that seems best at the given moment. So much so, that Csaba was prepared to do the painstaking work of transcribing these basically two-part pieces (written for the left and right hands of the piano) for guitar, and further develop his special polyphonic technique, simply so that together with Steve he could improvise to them, breaking all the taboos of classical music. Their fecund inventiveness is shown for instance by the way they make the title of Parallel motion into a metaphor for real-time composing: in a random order, Steve announces pieces from Mikrokosmos that contain musical phenomena in the title, and Csaba improvises to them. Elsewhere, in the etude Little Steady (which is an arrangement of the Bartók piece Little Study) the main organizing element is desert blues, which has so long been characteristic of Csaba’s style, and its constant monotony.
The other window of the hut faces west, and if we focus hard, from it we can see as far as America. We can make out the silhouette of a strange figure, with a voluminous beard and Viking headgear. We recognize him as Moondog, who lived beneath the stars on the sidewalks of New York, cobbled instruments together from objects he found, and composed music from the noise on the street, not remotely suspecting that he was treading out the path for modern repetitive music. For the artists of this CD, if there is such a thing as zeitgeist, then Bartók and Moondog were in tune with it, and now in this album they get a chance to meet. Bartók comes out with his theory about how a “natural force whose operation is unconscious” in people created folk music, and from it he made concert music; Moondog reports on the melodiousness and rhythm he discovered in the hooting of cars and the traffic flow controlled by traffic lights, from which he created the “folk music” of the metropolis. Their common denominator is that people are not inside music, just the opposite: in the case of the musicians on this album, this is doubly true, when they concentrate their powerful musical message into thrilling microdynamics. Csaba uses the simplest of his acoustic guitars for this, while Steve, like Moondog with his famous percussion instrument, the trimba, composes his fleet of instruments from objets trouvés. For him, sound and dynamics are what matter, so to create them, he doesn’t shrink from selecting tools from the bathroom, antique shops, the forest, or even an instrument shop. With these minimal instruments the two musicians create sounds characteristic of Moondog, evoking the soft, warm tones of wood.
Besides the two windows, this edifice has a door, through which every external influence flows freely, including those from light music and folk. With Csaba Palotai and Steve Argüelles, how could this be otherwise? Not just because musical elitism is alien to them, but because they actually seek out the aspect of music that uplifts us without resorting to pathos. In addition to playing in bands of many different genres, with his previous five albums released on the BMC Records label, including his solo album The Deserter, Csaba expressed himself so clearly that the compositions on it stand their ground just as well next to a campfire as in a famous concert hall. No wonder it garnered so much praise internationally, from New York to London. In his latest album, Antiquity, released in 2019, with Steve Argüelles as his main accomplice, there were almost danceable compositions (like the piece Karma Junction) which stand the test of much repeated listening. Steve, however, immersed in various world musics, and even after having played with the greatest (such as Dudu Pukwana, John Taylor, Alexander Balanescu, Lee Konitz, Steve Lacy, and Django Bates) has returned to his starting point: the importance of the groove. And let’s not forget his experience as a producer, his familiarity with electronic music, which helps him to thin in terms of space and mixing tracks, even when, in the present case, the tracks are given by the sound of sweeping on paper boxes and various bits and pieces. When it comes down to it, repetition is the ladder on which we can climb into this treehouse. A profane but all the more effective means for attaining a higher plane of consciousness. This is the music-making den they invite us into, replete with panorama and all mod cons, yet still with a romantic and handcrafted feel. Come along in, there’s space for everybody!
Translated by Richard Robinson