Fono Records, 1998
|Mirrorworld by Hungarian violinist Zoltán Lantos instantly catapults you into quite off-the-charts a musical parallel universe. It bears only faint resemblance to conventions on mother Earth. His aural dimensions fluctuate around a strong contemplative central axis that sets an introspective mood. Yet Free Jazz leanings inject an experimental edge of unpredictability that's usually foreign and disturbing to purely meditative exploits.
As outlined in my prior review of his solo effort Eclipse, Zoltán expanded on his classical conservatory training by spending eight years in India learning and then performing in raga-based modes. On Mirrorworld, he surrounds himself with a truly eclectic bunch of musicians. Dhafer Youssef is a young Tunisian oud player now based out of Vienna whose two Enja releases Malak and Electric Sufi enjoy very high ratings among cognoscenti.
Saxophonist László Dez was leader of the legendary Hungarian "Trio Stendal" Jazz formation with which he recorded several celebrated albums (Earthsound, Something Happened, Best of Dez). He's collaborated with Cserepes on Emigration, István Mártha on Wind Rises and Nikola Parov on Kilim. He is fluent in both classical and contemporary milieus and composes for film, theatre and musicals. Kamilló Lendvay's saxophone concerto was expressively written for him.
Pianist Chris Jarrett concluded his US studies at the Ohio Oberlin Conservatory before relocating to Germany where he's become a regular guest at Jazz and World Music festivals. He has two solo CDs under his belt (Fire and Live In Tübingen) and composes for film and dance.
Saxman Mihály Dresch is solidly grounded in the Hungarian avantgarde Jazz scene yet also strongly connected to his country's musical folklore. Kornél Horváth of the Rag Handed solo release worked with Déz' Trio Stendal and is known for a unique hand percussion technique deftly explored on Mirrorworld. German bassist Achim Tang of the group "On the Long Run" rounds out the team.
The opener "Indigo" is a jouncy excursion into remotely ECM-like Jan Garbarek territory. It features violin, bass, shakers/percussion and Mihály Dresch on soprano sax. Horváth's various shakers uphold a certain primitive element, the base rhythm and Tang's syncopated bass lines are suggestive of Jazz. The sax melody meanders along possibly Persian origins while Zoltán's sinuous violin solo suggests Middle-Eastern parentage. His occasional pizzicato accents could be Chinese.
Quite literally all over the map yet organically joined, these disparate influences make for both recognition and somewhat shocked disbelief at how fluidly the ensemble progresses from one to the next or even overlays them.
The riveting 9/8th based "Yellow Rain" sees Zoltán switch to the tarangini and sarangini, violin cousins with 16 differently tuned sympathetic strings. Dhafer Youssef on oud replaces Mihály Dresch. Lantos' muscular spiccato work now recalls L. Subramaniam while the harmonic progressions suggested by his melodic improvisations are strangely off-kilter, interjected with birdlike flageolet chirping. Livelier avantgarde inserts are set against taqsim-like oud improv, Horváth's distinctly Indian clay pots and Tang's fiercely slapped bass.
For all its left-field surprises, this track too is wonderfully satisfying. It's like embarking on a haphazard field trip with a trusted tutor whose impromptu creativity makes you see familiar things in new and unexpected light.
The title track introduces gatodrum, an obviously hollowed-out wooden percussion box with different tunings of perhaps African origin and Zoltán's electric 5-string violin, for a most freely sketched "avantgarde" piece.
The following beat-less "Sufi Gamelan" opens with Tibetan singing bowls and bells and Dhafer Youssef on mesmerizing vocalizing sans lyrics. Chris Jarrett coaxes the most amazing glasslike and damped timbres from his prepared piano. "Yatra" is a lively upbeat Indian-flavored number with complex conga and bongo trills and intricately shifting patterns mimicking Zoltán's light-pressure bow workout. The flitting tanpura accompaniment introduces yet another new dimension, and one key melody that eventually arises assembled from previously introduced fragments again gleams with a distinctly Norwegian "Garbarek flavor".
Yet nothing is or stays what it seems. With truly far-reaching creativity, this 13:20-minute track, like the whole album, explores time shifts, stylistic jumps and a nearly maniacal ability for pulling outrageous stunts that have you scratching your head while fearing to miss the next surprise if you withdraw attention for even a few seconds too many. How 'bout Horváth's irregular rain-patter conga/bonga solo that soon merely turns intro for Zoltan's overtone melody? This quickly becomes full ensemble reprise of the main theme before a further exposition develops it further. There goes the hand to the scalp again.
Still, the best is yet to come - "Impromptu", a completely alternate universe erected around merely Zoltán and Mihály Dresch on wooden flutes and bass clarinet. Intensely expressive, high airspeed blowing in open fourth and fifth on unspecified flutes above endlessly resonating singing bowls; overdubbed and slightly time-shifted violin pizzicato arabesques; the giant roaring of the bass clarinet suggesting a subterranean nature spirit; flickering flageolet string pickings that literally bounce and reflect off artificial room boundaries like fractal shards ... and all recorded in reference quality.
Mirrorworld isn't pretty music even though it's plainly beautiful in a mind-opening, transpersonal sort of way. It's a bit challenging but much less so than Free Jazz. Unlike the latter, it never gets chaotic or relentless. It's boundlessly creative and exploratory. It's charting unknown territories and, as the cover art suggests, offers multiple distinct faces or visions. It's modernistic for sure, genre-crossing, certainly trans-national. It's new music in the best sense of the word. Highly recommended, but only for those who don't fear treading virgin territory and venturing off-planet to undisclosed destinations.
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