Gábor Gadó - Veronika Harcsa Sextet Shekhinah
Gábor Gadó has been working with BMC Records for a quarter of a century, releasing an incredible number of more than 20 albums, including one of the label's biggest hits, Orthodoxia (2002). Gadó has recorded with many other line-ups after his French quartet, and on his last two albums, he played in duos with János Ávéd and Laurent Blondiau – the wind section of this new album. The Sextet was formed at the initiative of Gadó, who wishes to continue the vocal jazz tradition, formerly hallmarked by the name of Gábor Winand. He couldn't have found a more suitable partner than Veronika Harcsa, who is by far the most popular Hungarian jazz singer at home and the most recognised abroad. Her duo with Bálint Gyémánt, invited to the Jazzahead! showcase years ago, is already releasing its third album on German labels, while on BMC Records, we find her contemporary, improvisational and classical projects such as Debussy NOW!, the Modern Art Orchestra's Bartók album, or Different Aspects of Silence featuring Kornél Fekete-Kovács, the Robert Balzar Trio and Dan Bárta.
But the special thing about Shekhinah is not just the bandleaders' history. Although they are both known primarily as jazz musicians, their work is increasingly shifting towards classical and contemporary music, and this sextet is another step in that direction, with a dialogue between contemporary classical musicians and jazz musicians that dissolves (believed) conventions of genre. From the side of jazz, two wind players – Belgian trumpeter Laurent Blondiau and timbre magician saxophonist János Ávéd –, and from the classical side, two string players – Tamás Zétényi, a prominent cellist of the contemporary music scene, and Éva Csermák, a Hungarian violinist living in Berlin – add defining colours to the music. In their translucent songs, the world of jazz, early music and contemporary classical music are intertwined: broken traditions and modern musical devices are brought to life from a unique perspective, weaved together in a mystical and ethereal, diverse and organic fabric.
Gábor Gadó – guitar
Veronika Harcsa – vocals
János Ávéd – tenor and soprano saxophone, flute
Laurent Blondiau – trumpet
Éva Csermák – violin
Tamás Zétényi – cello
About the album
All compositions by Gábor Gadó, except track 9 by Händel
Lyrics by Veronika Harcsa, except track 7 by János Pilinszky (poem entitled Négysoros)
Recorded at BMC Studio, Budapest on 19-22 April, 2022
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Viktor Szabó
Artwork: Anna Natter / Cinniature
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
Gábor Gadó – Veronika Harcsa Sexte:Shekhinah
The CD you are holding is unusual in several respects. Guitarist-composer Gábor Gadó, who is known throughout Europe and for two decades has been living in France, has made his new album with jazz singer and songwriter Veronika Harcsa, one of the most innovative figures in Hungarian jazz; the classically trained violinist Éva Csermák, who lives in Germany; jazz saxophonist and composer János Ávéd, who is active in jazz and free improvisation; Belgian jazz trumpeter Laurent Blondiau, who is also known in several genres; and one of the most important cellists on the Hungarian contemporary music scene, Tamás Zétényi. The disc shows many achievements based on which we could state unequivocally that Gadó’s work has moved to a new level. At the same time, it can be noted that this musical material, which bears Gadó’s unmistakable fingerprint, is of such high quality because the fellow musicians he has invited to collaborate on the album have all, individually and as an ensemble, contributed something to the production that results in the birth of a “complete whole”, in as pure and differentiated a form as possible.
One of the main (and also most surprising) musical features of Shekhinah is that its texture dispenses with the rhythm section (percussion and bass) so essential in jazz: this gesture might seem a logical step, especially to those who have been following Gadó’s work, even though it is not immediately clear exactly what the consequences of this are for the internal economy of the music. Omitting the rhythm section erodes the bipolar order of the principle of jazz (or recreates it) – the mechanism that we are generally accustomed to understand via the duality of “melody and accompaniment”. The intertwining of the parts (voice, saxophone, trumpet, guitar, violin, and cello) creates coordinate rather than subordinate relations, thus the musical texture is a natural, organic polyphony, or just the opposite: it is present as an entity forged into a single instrument from various tone colours and characters. This is important because the other typical feature of jazz, the tensions arising from text (as in pre-written, fixed material) and improvisation, seem to resolve, and the boundaries between them seem to blur.
Behind this there lies a special way of thinking about music, based on the intuitive (or sometimes deliberate) use of compositional techniques used in bygone eras of music history. The CD can rather be considered a work of contemporary classical music, one that is linked to jazz performance practice at most through the musicians’ joint working process, and the open (or more open) creative method. In several movements on the album, the influence of one of the main principles of Baroque music, monody, can be detected. In essence, monody is a single-voiced melody which aims to express as transparently and simply as possible the perfect unity of musical expression (emotion) and structure (rationality), as a reaction to the complex structure of the polyphony of the Renaissance, which preceded it. Experienced music-lovers might think of the operas of Monteverdi: the duality of the monody (vocal lines) and the basso continuo (which was, at root, the early equivalent of the jazz rhythm section). The majority of Gadó’s compositions are monodies, though there is no basso continuo gravity linked to them. This is precisely what explains why the differences between the fixed and improvised passages melt away: in the practice of jazz, improvisation usually draws not from the melodic material, but from the harmonic skeleton – the chord progressions. If musical material deliberately avoids thinking in terms of harmonic progressions, then the improvisations appear as alternative manifestations of the pre-written melodic events, as a naturally unfolding variation-type extension; additionally, the improvisatory schemata and go-to phrases originating in classical harmonic thinking disappear, though in the practice of jazz today they occur automatically, as obligatory accessories.
By cross-fertilizing the practical application of monody with two other musical procedures, new layers, new parallels in music history are born. Gadó often notates his single-part material in two parts, thus calling to mind the hoquet technique of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century vocal music, in which thesingers produced the notes of a melody in alternation with one another; on the other hand the way a melody travels across various instrumental parts evokes the Klangfarbenmelodie technique of the Second Viennese School, particularly Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern.
This is not to say that the guitarist-composer's thinking leaves no space to experiment with the vertical dimension of music. We can hear several examples of this in the songs of this CD. One is when Gadó transfigures monody into polyphony by sounding multiple insances of the melody at a certain interval (or intervals) – and once more, this creates many stylistic allusions. A fourth and sixth intoned below the main melody evokes the sound-world of the late Middle Ages, the fauxbourdon of Notre Dame (Réka's House); harmonization with fourths and fifths conjures up the beginnings of polyphony, organum (mainly in the improvisations); and parallel ninths and minor seconds point to twentieth-century models (The Promise). In the same manner, through melodic connections (but going beyond exclusively parallel motion) collective improvisations (usually between pairs of instruments) transform into structures pointing to Renaissance and Baroque imitative technique (Drepung, Colours Ballet). The other form in which vertical thinking appears is in the devices deriving from the Baroque style of functional harmony, which Gadó uses far more explicitly than the previous techniques (Colours Ballet, Patience is Gold, Réka's House, The Promise). In this case, we are beckoned to a world of vocal genres with a homophonic structure (in other words, those that create a subordinate relationship between the parts), the four-part chorales (as indicated in the titles) and da capo arias reduced to a melody and its accompaniment. In the succession of mostly descending harmonic progressions, we find exciting cross-references, for example the diatonic organ-type mixture of the stepwise descent in The Promise recurs in a chromatically mistuned form in the overture to Réka's House. The recurrent references to the Baroque aria make it possible for Gadó and his fellow musicians to intone a kind of proclamation, a declaration of allegiance: with innate artlessness, before the closure of the album they play the aria beginning Mi lusinga il dolce affetto from Haendel’s Alcina. This excerpt fits smoothly into the dramaturgy of the musical process not only due to the combination of instruments, but also as a result of the intimations of the theme in previous compositions. The layers of connection are enriched by the way Haendel’s aria is linked to the world of jazz not only in its musical demeanour and style, but also in its formal conception: after the two contrasting sections an aria (in Baroque performance practice) always closes with a free variation of the musical material first heard, which the soloist fashions to her or his own image.
The alternation of musical perspectives and their simultaneous presence (with the resulting referentiality) is manifest not only in the way Gadó radically reworks three of his previous works on this CD – The Second Coming (Réka’s House), Drepung, Shekhinah, but also in how, eschewing actual quotations, and intertexuality in the literal sense, he expresses his hommage to several intellectual idols: the composer Galina Ustvolskaya, and also Hiromi Kikuchi, a violinist who frequently collaborated with György Kurtág. In the series of homages, the Hommage à Pilinszky is particularly significant, in that when he wrote the richly ornamented melody, Gadó turned to Pilinszky’s poem
Négysoros only for inspiration, and only later did Veronika Harcsa fit the text to it. The importance of Harcsa’s participation must be mentioned because of the lyrics: a special form of intertextuality can be found in the way she quotes sections from an interview with Ustvolskaya in the movement dedicated to that composer.
János Ávéd and Laurent Blondiau have been working with Gadó for a long time. But in the ensemble organized for Shekhinah, important roles were also taken by Éva Csermák and Tamás Zétényi, who both came from the classical music scene. An eloquent proof of the laudable way they have integrated into the group is Zétényi’s solo in Shekhinah (which during recording sessions Gadó referred to as a Hendrix allusion), and Csermák’s improvisation in The Double Moonlight.
Translated by Richard Robinson