Kristóf Bacsó TRIAD and Daniele Camarda Imaginary Faces
Kristóf Bacsó, one of the leading saxophonists of the middle generation of Hungarian jazz musicians, has released six albums as composer and band leader on the BMC Records label, and he plays a leading role in Hungary’s number one contemporary big band, the Modern Art Orchestra. His playing can also be heard on many other CDs, including Different Garden by Gábor Winand and Gábor Gadó.
A decisive influence on his career were the artistic connections he made in Berklee: he played at the Opus Jazz Club with Francesco Guaiana, and gave beautiful concerts with David Dorůžka and Albert Sanz.
Bacsó also performed and recorded the album Pannon Blue with Lionel Loueke for BMC Records. Now, as the next step of this artistic path, he has supplemented his trio with Daniele Camarda, who plays the unusual seven-string bass guitar.
On the new album Imaginary Faces Bacsó's compositions are enframed by two arrangements: one of Eric Satie’s music, and one of Béla Bartók’s.
Kristóf Bacsó – tenor saxophone, effects
Áron Tálas – Fender Rhodes, piano, keyboards
Márton Juhász – drums
Daniele Camarda – electric bass, effects
About the album
All compositions by Kristóf Bacsó, except track 1 by Erik Satie (arranged by Kristóf Bacsó) and
track 10 by Béla Bartók (arranged by Kristóf Bacsó)
Recorded at BMC Studio on 12-13 February, 2022
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Viktor Szabó
Producer: László Gőz
Co-produced by Kristóf Bacsó
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
The recording was realised with support by the NKA National Cultural Fund, Hungary.
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Kristóf Bacsó TRIAD and Daniele Camarda
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Stories of Melody in a Time of Pandemic
“A melody has no harmony, any more than than a landscape has its own colours. Let us not forget that the melody is the idea, the melody is the outline, the melody is the form and object of the work. The harmony merely illuminates it, sets it at the centre, and provides a mirror image for it. […] The idea is there without art. Let us not trust art: often it is nothing more than empty virtuosity.” The lines above were written by Erik Satie (1866–1925), an eccentric French composer from the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and I quote it not simply because the first track on Kristóf Bacsó’s new CD is a Satie arrangement, but also because I feel that it captures the essence of how Kristóf Bacsó functions as a composer-performer. As the first listener of the album Imaginary Faces, I was struck primarily by the formation of melody in Kristóf Bacsó’s musical world. Naturally this should not be taken to mean that the songs on the CD are not exciting in harmonic, formal, rhythmic terms, or even because of the riveting improvisations.
Right from the first moment of the CD, at the beginning of the first track, it becomes clear to the listener that “melody is the form and object of the work.” Here, we are dealing with an arrangement of one of the popular melodies extant in the estate of Erik Satie that was not published until the 1960s. The “Petite Ouverture à Dancer” (a title which derives not from Satie but from the publisher) is played in its original form at the end of the arrangement, but far more exciting is how Satie’s melody is heard at the beginning of the track in Kristóf Bacsó’s exquisite saxophone tones: with free rhythm, with phrasing differing from the original, with infinite ease.
Melody is the most important component in the second track too, and the title, “Highhill” is a translation of the name of a picturesque village in the hills north of Lake Balaton: Hegymagas. The place is important to Kristóf Bacsó for personal and professional reasons, because one of his oldest fellow musicians lives here (when he can), the jazz guitarist Gábor Gadó, known for his experimental music. “Highhill” can even be considered a homage to Gadó, for in it the craftsmanship of classical music and instinctive musicality form a wonderful mix. In the first minute the unusual seven-string bass guitar (played by Italian Daniel Camarda) and the saxophone juxtapose (in unison) melody elements consisting of three, four, five, and six notes. The diction of the music, and the system of momentary pauses after the end of each phrase is as natural as if the two instruments were speaking. If these threads of melody did not stretch over such a wide ambit, I would say the two instruments were muttering some kind of prayer. But why shouldn’t the musical language of prayer not by broad in terms of intervals? Then after about one minute, the two instruments start to repeat a short motif, and the free, speech-like rhythm adopts a strange, assymetric frame (with a pulse of 7+5+7 quavers), the drums enter (Márton Juhász) and the inimitable Fender Rhodes (Áron Tálas). Three harmonies are repeated, a simple A minor and C sharp minor chord, then the whole-tone chord (based on D) so important to Satie, Debussy, Ravel and many other early twentieth-century composers. Above this another melody develops, and finally solos take shape – the form is just as unusual as the pulse, the melody, and the harmonic world.
The third track is the opposite to all this: a simple metre, a simple melody, a simple form. The track was written for Kristóf Bacsó’s wife (the title, “Aleil,” is an anagram of her name), and it is not difficult to interpret the music as the metaphor for a good marriage. The saxophone and the bass guitar (the husband and wife, if you will) play the modest theme together. The melody is built of classical four-bar units, and follows the most typical AABA form. The harmony between the spouses is complete, and only at the end of the B section do we sense some uncertainty (what marriage does not have its difficulties?). Naturally this track has two solos: the bass guitar solo is full of motion, of boisterous gestures, and the beginning of the saxophone solo insists doggedly on a single note: it would be difficult to imagine more divergent characters. The music seems to be saying that the basis for truly serious harmony, the secret of a good marriage, is difference.
Not only is the polish and subtleness of the songs on the CD marvellous – the structure of the entire album is too. Kristóf Bacsó seems to be telling a story, and a very relevant story at that: how an unexpected, unpredictable event can upset our lives, how we react to it – sometimes with mocking irony, other times with fear and aggression; how much we long for hope, and finally how we find our way back to our own selves, partly by learning to see the world in more complexity, and partly by pausing for a moment to confront ourselves and our roots.
In this imaginary story the first three songs embody the state before the ominous event: the Satie arrangement gives the basic tone, “Highhill” is a musical evocation of the external world, and “Aleil” that of the personal sphere. The fourth track, “Dozen,” arouses particular tension, as if it were the musical setting of a premonition of some unpredictable, unexpected event. (True to its title, this track plays with the number twelve: the metre is 12/8, and some voices are defined by Arnold Schoeberg’s dodecaphonic technique.)
The track “Twotwenty” also tells of the uncertainty of waiting, but from the other side. The long introduction arouses in the listener a sense of “what’s this building up to?” just as do the melancholy tune, the strange harmonies, and the lack of a steady tonal foundation. The two twenties (2020) will for the majority of humanity most probably be a symbol of this feeling, when the global pandemic, unknowable and threatening, changed life all over the earth from one moment to the next.
The following track, “Mask,” turns the most awkward Covid accessory, the mask, into music: the peculiar “quacking” effects of the saxophone seem to point to how awkward it was, and at the same time the structure of the song can also be seen as a musical metaphor for the mask. In the first few bars we hear only the bass part: an unusual, asymmetric groove (two bars in 4/4 followed by two bars in 6/8, but with the tempo of quavers unchanged), this asymmetry is disguised in virtuoso fashion, as a kind of mask, by the drums’ constant pulsing. An older composition it may be, but the track “Piano Music” has found the perfect place for itself on this album. The introduction could be the beginning of a French piano piece from the beginning of the last century, but the insistently repeated harmonies wouldn’t be out of place in a Radiohead song either. First the saxophone pleads with a two-note motif, when the drums enter unexpectedly it begins to gesticulate with aggressive gestures, and the order in which the themes follow one another would benefit even a symphonic work. Eventually the song suddenly comes to a halt, without a conclusion. What next?
The next three tracks are about finding the way back. True to its title, “Hope” is reassuring music, the notes of the theme are layered one on the other with dazzling softness, in both a compositional and performing sense, and it is rare that a listener like me, brought up on the even pulses of European music, should feel as at home in the 5/4 metre as I did in this track. This music is at once alien and consoling: life seems to have bounced back after the cataclysm. The song before last, “Show Me Your Face” is in terms of harmony and melody the most complex track on the album, a kind of self-examination, framing the album as a partner to the opening Satie arrangement. The closing Bartók arrangement, the fourth movement, the “Buciumeana” of the Romanian Folk Dances of 1915, gives a sensitive conclusion: the sense of security from clinging onto the roots.
The Bacsó Kristóf Triad formed in 2013, and their first CD, Pannon Blue was released in 2016. Back then Árpád Tzumó was at the keyboards, and Lionel Loueke, a Benin-born guitarist joined the band as a fourth member. The difference between the line-up then and now is not just that Áron Tálas playes on piano and the Fender Rhodes, but also that the fourth member to complement the band is the Italian Daniel Camarda (who has close professional links with Loueke) and his androgynous-sounding seven-string bass guitar. What has not changed is the way the “triad” operates. The word refers to all manner of threeness, but in a musical context it is used for a three-note chord. In this sense Kristóf Bacsó would be the tonic, one of the defining figures on the European jazz scene, the drummer Márton Juhász would be the fifth, providing constancy, Áron Tálas the fluctuating third, and the guest musician joining them adds a touch of colour to the basic triad. Another thing that is constant in the world of the Triad, and that is perhaps the most important characteristic of the way Kristóf Bacsó operates as a composer and musician: this music is not alien to the world, transcendental, as music aestheticians of the nineteenth century believed, but it is a form of communication that nurtures a close relationship with reality. Music-making is not impractical dabbling in art (or to use Satie’s words “empty virtuosity”), it is a means of reflecting on the moment – a social, historical, personal moment. Which naturally does not mean that this music is not, or should not be, abstract and complex, or even direct and enchanting. Perhaps the magic of Kristóf Bacsó’s music lies precisely in the way he is able to show eternity in the moment.
Translated by Richard Robinson