Mihály Dresch Quiet As It Is

BMCCD055 2001

I have never heard music like his, music that draws upon folk music but instead of treating or adapting it, enters fully into the spirit of it, relives every moment of it inwardly. In my eyes Mihály Dresch is an intuitive artist who experiences the world vulnerable and defenceless, but the roots of his work go so deep as to make it unassailable.

Csaba Horváth, choreographer


Mihály Dresch - tenor and soprano sax, flute, vocals
Ferenc Kovács - violin, trumpet
Balázs Unger - cimbalom
Mátyás Szandai - double bass
István Baló - drums

About the album

All compositions by Mihály Dresch
Recorded at Za-KI Studio
Balance engineer: Péter Peterdi
Mastered by Tamás Sári

Cover photo: Lenke Szilágyi
Portrait photo: György Kallus
Design: Meral Yasar

Produced by László Gőz

The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the National Cultural Fund of Hungary.

Special thanks to Csaba Szögi, the president of the Central Europe Dance Theatre Association


Alex Dutilh - Jazzman **** (fr)

Guido Festinese - World Music Magazine - World Top CD (it)

Martin Ellenbruch - My Way (de)

Wawrzyniec Mąkinia - Diapazon (pl)

Zipernovszky Kornél - Gramofon ***** (hu)

Zipernovszky Kornél - Magyar Hírlap (hu)

3500 HUF 11 EUR

Mihály Dresch: Quiet As It Is

01 Seesaw 7:39
02 Punt it on! 10:47
03 5:10
04 The river Tisza 6:17
05 The Great Plain... sorrowful 8:25
06 Epilogue 2:24
07 Sorrow, sorrow 6:56
Total time 47:38

The album is available in digital form at our retail partners

I first heard Mihály Dresch's music ten years ago. Seeing and hearing “unfathomable creation” in progress made a lasting, deep impression on me. It was this experience that started me off on my career as a choreographer, and I have been trying to attain those depths and those heights with the language of dance which he attains with his music.

I have never heard music like his, music that draws upon folk music but instead of treating or adapting it, enters fully into the spirit of it, relives every moment of it inwardly. In my eyes Mihály Dresch is an intuitive artist who experiences the world vulnerable and defenceless, but the roots of his work go so deep as to make it unassailable. The following of my dance theatre performances were based on Mihály Dresch's music: Rowdies (1997), Firejumping (1998), Quiet as it is (1999), Stage's dawn (2000).

Csaba Horváth, choreographer (Central Europe Dance Theatre)

“Because the music is there in the mother earth”

Lying on a jetty jutting from the bank of the Tisza river, unsuspectingly basking in the sun, a recorder suddenly begins to pipe an old favourite right into my ear. It is Mihály Dresch who is piping the tune, his body still wet from the grey-green water. They don't charge admission here, no one asks for autographs - we are among friends, surrounded by nature.

The scene described above took place in September 1997 at the Improvisative Music Festival held at Magyarkanizsa in Voivodina, but it could have happened elsewhere at any other time. As it did a year later in Beijing, where, stopping at the stall of the first street vendor to try out the local recorders, Dresch gave an impromptu concert to the Chinese who flocked around him in droves as soon as he began to play; or as it can happen any time at the Mediawave in Győr, where he will just get out his saxophone in the park as a matter of course to try out a couple of passages - this type of unaffected behaviour, the intensity with which music and life are fused is absolutely characteristic of him. His hands are always busy; his head is always full of tunes, musical motifs, and there is always a small woodwind instrument at hand, to have a go at whenever there is a moment of peace.

Notes and melodies flow from him naturally and easily, and it is just as natural that this perennial fount takes its source from the soil of his homeland - and its wider surroundings - at the same time feeding and enriching it. His verbal and musical mother-language is undeniably Central European and, within that, characteristically Hungarian. Unlike many jazz musicians in this country, but similarly to György Szabados, István Grencsó, Károly Binder or Béla Ágoston, instead of trying to play mainstream American jazz as authentically as possible, he strives to fill the forms of expression used by this type of music with the traditions - primarily the folk traditions - of his own culture. He does not try to copy black music imported from beyond the seas; he builds from within. To use his own words, he wants to master the "divine" fire, the explosive energies within him, and give them shape. His compositions contain only conceptual sketches - it is up to the musicians to fill these structures with flesh, blood and inspiration.

“Folk music is just as viable and expressive as jazz”, Dresch told me in the course of an interview. “An old, familiar tune or a jazz improvisation may both be intricate, each within its own domain. The only difference between folk music and jazz is the spiritual charge with which I play them. The music of Gyimes, for example is archaic to begin with, and some of the tunes have special associations through personal experience, I have been there, seen the landscape, know the people of the country. The music of Sonny Rollins generates totally different emotions and associations; they affect me in other ways, I relate differently to them. These dissimilar kinds of music nevertheless live peaceably together inside me. All my life, I have tried to prove that you can love both the purest of jazz music and original folk music. Everyone has his own story, personal experiences, which everyday life has ground, burnt into him. These different kinds of music are part of my life.” 

Dresch has come a long way; his mother descends from a family of farmers, his father from a family of artisans. He himself attended vocational school in Csepel, where he studied engineering technology. He was twelve years old when he began to take a serious interest in music; he decided to dedicate his life to it. When at the age of eighteen he heard the Dizzy Gillespie Quartet on the radio, he knew that the saxophone was the only instrument for him. He was first admitted to the preparatory class of the Jazz Conservatory, later transferred to the Jazz Department while working as a mechanical instrument maker for two years. He left school in 1979, and since then makes a living by playing music.

“The system has not changed; it is just the same as it was 25 years ago: I get a phone-call, we talk it over, we play and get paid. We still haven't got a manager or a PR person, I do everything myself. That is the beauty and the difficulty of it. I live in a quiet way, but there is always food on the table, I can cover my expenses and even buy new instruments when I need them.

Many people say it's impossible to make a living out of jazz, so they play in other, more popular productions. Jazz is not only one of the purest of musical genres, it is a way of life. You've got to know, to feel why you do what you do. You can let loose your energies. Playing jazz can be a moving, cathartic experience if you conduct the music and yourself the right way. You get to keep your dignity as a musician. You've got to be proficient, but you can be free. You either accept this or you don't, but the decision is yours. And you can make a living out of jazz. Judging by my career, it's possible.”

Like many others, in the beginning Dresch was also fascinated by black American jazz, gospel and spirituals. He got to know Hungarian mainstream jazz and its representatives, Imre Koszegi, Géza Lakatos Pecek and the rest of the boys in the beginning of the eighties, and he still joins them for a session whenever they ask him along. Though he is now part of a different musical and spiritual trend, he has never become a stranger to traditional jazz. From time to time his recordings will include an evergreen composition, in his own interpretation, thus paying obeisance to the black music which has been such a great source of inspiration to him and which he and his fellow musicians love and revere.

He founded his first quartet in 1984. Until the mid-nineties, there was a frequent changeover in members. The “original Dresch Quartet”, that is, István Grencsó (wind instruments), Róbert Benko (double-bass) and István Baló (drums) played on the first two albums, but on the album The Sounds of Soul (1994), Tamás Geröly sat at the drums and Félix Lajkó joined them on the fiddle. One year later Ferenc Kovács (violin, trumpet) replaced Lajkó, thus stabilising the “old Dresch Quartet” which has since become a classic formation. These musicians knew each other well, played together for over ten years, learned to read each other's minds, were in sync. But in the course of time playing together became routinish, the members were beginning to settle into a rut, so in the spring of 1998 Dresch finally brought the decision he had been contemplating for some time, and a new formation came into being. In the “new Dresch Quartet” István Baló returned to the drums, “Öcsi” Kovács stayed, and young and talented Mátyás Szandai took over the double bass. The first acoustic document of the new quartet, Riding the Wind, came out - surprisingly - in England last spring: Shu-Fang Wang, the Taiwan-born producer domiciled there thought it the most important CD to introduce to the Island. (Three out of the four debuting discs released by newly founded November Music were Hungarian, with a disc by György Szabados and the Dél-Alföldi Saxophone Ensemble besides that of the Dresch Quartet.)

“I think it is very difficult to be successful today if one isn't prepared to make compromises”, Dresch confessed when I asked him why it seemed as if he were afraid of success. “The beginning of my career, the eighties, wasn't an easy time either. It wasn't easy to assert our real or imagined truths and stay honest, keep a clean conscience. We had to accomplish things by roundabout means, and were afraid of compromising ourselves. That fear is still with me, to this day. I probably misjudged a number of situations which might have furthered my career. But in the eighties, everything was suspect to me. I wanted to make my moves by choice, my own choice. There were things I shied away from, in certain situations I offended certain people, some of this I have come to regret. But it is becoming more and more difficult to find one's way in increasingly complex situations. It is important to me to remain an autonomous person. So that success comes from what I do and how I do it, and for no other reason.

Perhaps I should have taken advantage of more opportunities, but I've always allowed myself the right to say no. Some of my decisions may have proved wrong, but I've always managed to stand on my own feet, my spirit remains uncrushed, and I can look into the mirror with a clear conscience in the morning. Success is relative in any case. As my friend the poet Sándor Restár put it in 1984: 'I stand on the top step of the podium. Facing the crowd. They hiss. Then they applaud. I bow. Something is placed around my neck. I smile. I am not yet sure if it is the ribbon of a decoration or a piece of rope.'”

Dresch was never an easy case, but his consistency is an indisputable fact. Though he has had albums released in Germany and more recently in England, though he tours Europe with increasing frequency and is often invited to participate in musical events, though several films and plays have been based on his music, he has never changed his course.

“A number of people have said that our music is Hungarian music. I can only add that I certainly hope it is”, he writes in the leaflet of an earlier CD, and Dresch is indeed a specifically Hungarian artist, not only in a musical sense, but also as regards his fate. The titles of his CDs reveal his ars poetica. This music is truly Sorrow-full, painful and irresistible at the same time, containing Thoughts about the Ancients, The Sounds of Soul, and the oeuvre of Dresch is an endless Winding liane, a long musical progression, a real submersion. Over the Water, Cool Sky - Fidelity, Motionless Journey are titles that need no explanation.

“Music comes from inside, and I think I know now why the notes are there, what they mean to me. At the festivals where I play, I usually listen to the others, and as I play quite a lot, I hear plenty of music, but I seldom put on a CD. My grandfather, who was born in 1890, was a farmer who rarely travelled beyond the next village (except to the Italian and the Russian fronts in World War I), yet he knew a great deal about the world. Fate bestowed on him all the gifts and pain that can serve as challenges in life. I doubt that old Transylvanian musicians or the Cuban musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club know Mozart, Bartók, Miles Davis or Gamelan folk music, yet they make perfect music in their own fashion. Because the music is there in the mother earth. This intangible energy assumes various shapes, it can ripen or rot, it all depends on what kind of person you are. What kind of music your experiences turn into.”

Quiet as it is is unparalleled in Dresch's career as this is the first time he wrote music on commission, for an already existing play, a new production of Csaba Horváth and the Central Europe Dance Theatre. Dresch is not a composer, that is, not in the classic sense of the word: he can only write music for himself or his own orchestra. This is why he decided to include new and old themes, tunes, and motifs in this work that serves as an accompaniment. He did not put together a new album out of pieces on earlier albums, but reinterpreted, rearranged themes that had been recorded before and made a new recording. That is how the parts became integrated into a whole, into a finely-constructed work that has a beginning and an end, that arcs and soars, has depth and the power to sweep you along.

Béla Szilárd Jávorszky 
translated by Fruzsina Balkay, Eszter Molnár

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