It’s about time someone created a superior third-stream jazz recording in the 21st century. The Budapest Jazz Orchestra Meets Kálmán Oláh, Images, is that disc. Pianist Kálmán Oláh, a recipient of the Liszt-prize who was also named Jazz Musician of the Year by Gramofon magazine, won the Grand Prize of the BMI Thelonious Monk International Jazz Composer’s Competition in 2006. As a performer/teacher he leads his own groups in addition to giving lectures at Liszt Academy of Music.
"Images" is Oláh’s brilliant homage to, and reworking memoriam of, Bela Bartok’s music into a quasi-jazz/classical highbred that is true to both genres and crossovers between them as well. Without the need for direct quotes of Bartok’s music, Oláh, in the two part "Images" suite, evokes not just the complexity and tight construction inherent within the folk music pioneer’s music, but also orchestrates a big band sound resplendent with clashing brass and triumphant saxophones. Oláh’s piano work, a mainstay and focal point throughout, is at times both terse and sprawling in much the same way Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin is both a statement of strength and yet full of beautifully constructed 20th century harmonically oriented melodies.
After the 26 minute suite, the recording concludes with four last Oláh arrangements. First up is his "Valley Of Megiddo," a broodingly happy swinger, again featuring Oláh’s inspired piano work and a bevy of orchestral colors from the big band interspersed with superior solos that serve to highlight the musical arrangement, not draw attention away from it.
Thelonious Monk’s "Round About Midnight," along with a true classically oriented "Prologue," follows next. The album is completed by Oláh’s, "Last Moment," one of his most famous compositions. Here arranged for big band, we are again treated to sheer timbral delight. The composition takes the form of a 3 plus 1 part suite and is almost too hip for its own good. The Latin elements, mixed with the folk style melody, are layered perfectly. You can’t help but smile as you listen.
The Budapest Jazz Orchestra is as fine a big band as can be found in today’s jazz market. They play with a surety and grace, punctuated by solid metrical time concepts and an innate feel for swing, missing from so many of today’s best collegiate and professional jazz ensembles. In the hands of Oláh’s tremendous arrangements the group has produced their finest record, and the best big band recording, so far, of this century. If you only buy one big band album this year, this is the disc to buy. Because it’s hard to find you won’t see the big magazines reviewing it, but have faith, when you listen to this you will know and fully understand just how grand and glorious a musical statement this is.