Párniczky Quartet Bartók Electrified
The Bartók project launched by jazz guitarist András Párniczky (1972) two years ago (though it only took shape in the last year) is thus not without precedent. Yet in many respects it takes a different tack on the composer’s oeuvre, which transcends eras and musical cultures. Not only in the sense that in this combination the guitar is the only harmonic instrument, and the parts are to be played by various other instruments, but also because since the copyright restrictions on Bartók’s works expired in 2015 (...), he has ‘interfered’ in the compositions far more courageously and creatively than his predecessors. He has loosened the shackles of unswerving respect for Bartók in a way that has enabled him to realize his own visions.
András Párniczky – guitar
Péter Bede – saxophone
Ernő Hock – double bass
István Baló – drums, percussion
About the album
All compositions by Béla Bartók and András Gábor Párniczky, except track 7 traditional song arranged
by András Gábor Párniczky
Supported by the National Cultural Fund of Hungary
Recorded at BMC Concert Hall on 19-21 June and 10 December, 2017
Recorded by Zsolt Kiss and Viktor Szabó
Mixed and mastered by Viktor Szabó
Artwork: László Huszár / Greenroom
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
Andrea Aguzzi - NeuGuitars (en)
Andrea Aguzzi (interview) - NeuGuitars (en)
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Horacio - Latina (jp)
Peter Dobšinský - sk.Jazz ***** (sk)
Z.K. Slabý - hisvoice.cz (cz)
Gáspár Károly - Jazzma.hu (hu)
Pázmándi Gergely - Gramofon ***** (hu)
Márton Attila - Demokrata (hu)
Olasz Sándor - Riff (hu)
Végső Zoltán - Ritmus és hang (hu)
Komlós József JR - Alföldi Régió Magazin (hu)
Párniczky Quartet: Bartók Electrified
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Bartók later called jazz a ‘clever genre’, ‘whose melodies are formed of artful elements and rhythms’. ‘Its structure is modern, and most valuable,’ he added. Not long afterwards, he was approached via violinist József Szigeti by Benny Goodman, the world-famous jazz clarinettist, to write a piece, and the result was the chamber work Contrasts. It was premiered in January 1939 in Carnegie Hall, New York, by Goodman, Szigeti, and the pianist Endre Petri. One year later Bartók added a third movement to the original two, and this was the form in which he himself recorded it for Columbia Records with Goodman and Szigeti.
In spite of Bartók obviously valuing jazz as an expression of Afro-American folklore, he did not immerse himself in it particularly deeply; indeed, his relationship to jazz seems to have been casual to the end of his life. Yet his profoundly original musical language, linked in different ways to folk music, has had an inspiring influence on many exponents of modern jazz. For instance, on the American pianist Chick Corea, who not only transferred many of Bartók’s works into the jazz idiom (14 Bagatelles, Mikrokosmos), but whose piano technique is highly reminiscent of Bartók’s percussive style. Then there is Keith Jarrett, who has also included several Bartók works in his programme. We could also mention the saxophonist Lee Konitz, who, again, has reinterpreted many works by Bartók, including some from Mikrokosmos. And of course we should not forget the prototype Hungarian pianists, particularly György Szabados (whose transcriptions are associative rather than arrangements in the strict sense), Károly Binder, and Kálmán Oláh. And these are just the most important.
The Bartók project launched by jazz guitarist András Párniczky (1972) two years ago (though it only took shape in the last year) is thus not without precedent. Yet in many respects it takes a different tack on the composer’s oeuvre, which transcends eras and musical cultures. Not only in the sense that in this combination the guitar is the only harmonic instrument, and the parts are to be played by various other instruments, but also because since the copyright restrictions on Bartók’s works expired in 2015 (until then Bartók estate had basically adhered to a zero-tolerance policy, meaning that the works could only be recorded or produced on stage in their original form), he has ‘interfered’ in the compositions far more courageously and creatively than his predecessors. He has loosened the shackles of unswerving respect for Bartók in a way that has enabled him to realize his own visions.
Párniczky initially envisioned his adaptations of Bartók’s works as an expression of his own identity within the framework of his band Nigun, which aims to forge a completely new synthesis of central European Jewish folk music and American jazz. But he soon realized that Nigun’s musical world was too individual and coherent to impose all of this onto it. Instead, he decided to found a new quartet especially for the Bartók project. To start with he worked with drummer Attila Gyárfás, saxophonist János Ávéd, and bassist Ernő Hock. Then at the performance at the Palace of Arts in 2016, together with Ernő Hock the group was complemented by partners from Nigun, István Baló and Péter Bede, and this was the lineup that recorded the CD.
‘Bartók was a proud, sincere character, who brooked no compromise, who was at one and the same time a late Romantic composer full of feeling, and an incredible, lean, determined ethnomusicologist, who composed with surgical precision’ said Párniczky. At the same time, Bartók, referred to as contemporary even seventy-two years after his death, was one of the last composers not to exploit in any way whatsoever the opportunities afforded by electronics. One reason Párniczky decided to call his project Bartók Electrified was because for years he had been curious as to how these works, which he loved in their original form, would sound on electric instruments.
Most of the music chosen is from Bartók’s short pieces: some of them have been translated into a jazz idiom ‘as is’, while others he has played around with considerably, using them as a source of inspiration. He has endeavoured to keep a constant balance between Bartók’s ideas and improvisation, even though the jazz impro in these compositions doesn’t necessarily happen in the same way as in the standards. In several instances he had to write improvisatory riffs for Bartók’s themes, but there are some pieces where there aren’t even riffs, and basically he and the band play free impro.
The ten works on this CD, with András Párnicky’s comments:
Bulgarian rhythm (Mikrokosmos Volume IV, No. 113) -- ‘In this piece in 7/8 time the melody sounds above an ostinato. If it were not in 7/8, it could work just like a jazz standard. I’ve put the original ostinato on the guitar, and Péter Bede simply wallows in the folk melodies.’
Frustration -- ‘Just like the title. It is full of tritone jumps, reinforcing the feeling. A compact piece, and self-aware. I wrote the harmonic riff, which has chords that shift by semitones in the accompaniment.’
Major seconds (Mikrokosmos, Volume V, No. 132) -- ‘A characteristic example of a Bartókian melody. Both for the performers and the listener, this is perhaps the most difficult piece on the disc. The typical clash of seconds runs all the way through it.’
Village Joke (Mikrokosmos Volume V, No. 130) -- ‘A one-minute piece. For me, a scherzo, performed playfully, is a legitimate genre, though the majority of jazz musicians think differently. Originally we recorded it live in Szimpla (a “ruin pub” in Budapest). There it lasted ten minutes; on this disc it’s only one minute. It’s better this way.’
Boating (Mikrokosmos Volume V, No. 125) -- Subtitled ‘The two voices rowing in the waters of different keys.’ ‘A typical Bartók piece, in an irregular 3/4 time. The ostinato is in D minor, but the theme is a semitone higher, in E flat minor. Just as the Concerto for Orchestra is full of fourth chords, here too the ostinato is actually a fourth chord. It actually contains the very same harmonies you can find in McCoy Tyner’s playing with the John Coltrane Quartet.’
Sebes (Fast Dance) (Allegro vivace) -- this is the third movement of Contrasts, the chamber work written to a commission by Benny Goodman. This arrangement makes a nod towards the world of Mihály Dresch. Even the original is scurrilously difficult. The theme is exciting, and I wrote three parts for it, because when we performed it in the Palace of Arts in 2016, we had another guitarist (Frank Möbus) and another saxophonist (Daniel Erdmann) playing with us. Two of these parts have found their way onto the CD. As a result, I no longer know what is Bartók’s original, and what I’ve added.’
The wheat will be ripe -- ‘This reinterpretation of Bartók’s folksong arrangement was Pisti Baló’s idea, and was made based on his instrumentation.’
Syncopation (Mikrokosmos, Volume V, No. 133) -- ‘An extremely difficult piece technically, because the ostinato varies between 5/4 and 4/4. Even under the guitar solo. In addition, there are two polytonal chords, set one whole tone apart. The theme is written in the half-whole scale one semitone higher relative to the chords. The axis system is one of the main characteristics of Bartók’s musical thinking.
Thumbs under (Mikrokosmos, Volume IV, No. 98) -- ‘This was the first piece I made for the Bartók project. It has tempo, and then again it doesn’t. We count ourselves in at the beginning, and play in that tempo all the way through, but this tempo can only be felt indirectly until the saxophone solo.’
Bear Dance -- ‘One of the 10 Easy Pieces, which evokes the rhythms of the swineherd dances. A powerful work, again dominated by fourth chords. The music moves on three planes: the bass gives a sense of tonality, in the middle are fourth chords, either overlaid onto the harmony or diverging from it, and above is a simple pentatonic melody, a semitone out of kilter with what the bass is playing. An old favourite – perhaps this was the first work of Bartók’s I ever heard.’
Béla Szilárd Jávorszky
Translated by Richard Robinson