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Dream Car by Istvan Grencso & Surprise Kollektiv

The jazz scene in Hungary - from what I can tell - consists of two basic elements: conservatory-trained professionals who can whip out jaw dropping solos on any number of jazz standards, and a tiny gang of iconoclasts who write and perform vital, socially-conscious new music which is as cutting-edge as anything going on in New York City.

Multi-reed artist Istvan Grencso is definitely one of the iconoclasts. Since breaking away from Mihaly Dresch Dudas' Quartet during the mid-80s, Grencso immediately began to pursue a different permutation of modern jazz and Hungarian folk music than that of his mentor. Listening to some of his early work, it seemed that Grencso was playing Ornette, or perhaps Captain Beefheart, to Dresch's Coltrane.

During the 90s, Grencso stretched further - he recorded a CD of Monk tunes, and formed a trio with the pre-eminent Hungarian jazz bassist Robert Benko and drummer Gyorgy Jeszenszky. This trio provided the sort of musical plasticity and skill that Grencso needed to forge a new sound - a unique synthesis of experimental rock, performance art, hip hop, Hungarian folkloric music, and post-Coltrane jazz.

Grencso's latest recordings are, for all intents and purposes, jazz / new music concept albums featuring and expanded ensemble that consists of his longstanding trio (with Benko and Jeszenszky), plus members of the progressive rock band Kampec Dolores (vocalist / violinist Gabi Kenderesi and guitarist Csaba Hajnoczy), as well as a variety of guest artists - including rappers, choral groups, turntablists, and spoken word artists - chosen to flesh out the thematic material at hand.

Dream Car (Adventure music) is an ambitious and elaborate montage of music, electro-acoustic soundscapes, and spoken word. About half of the tracks are brief, amorphous soundscapes which envelop Tibor Szemzo's spoken word pieces and imperceptibly shift into fully-developed pieces for the instrumental ensemble. Szemzo's narrative is based on a popular children's story, and he has a soothing, carefully modulated delivery, not unlike Ken Nordine's. You don't have to understand Hungarian to appreciate it, but I am sure it helps.

Grencso's musical themes are relatively simple and stripped down, and serve mainly as a platform for extended reed or guitar solos. The rhythmic / harmonic approach of these pieces varies wildly from funky edgy rock, to Afro-Cuban, to ECM-like impressionism, to skronking Zorn-like improv, to a rather odd adaptation of Indonesian Gamelan. Through it all, Grencso's arranging, and the rather understated playing of his backing band, is nothing short of inspired. Grencso allots himself the vast majority of the solo space, and his searing Ornette-ish reedwork is a glory to behold.

On paper, Dream Car might seem like a crazy hodge-podge, or a potential mess, but Grencso's wry sense of humor and masterful ability to integrate a dizzying array of disparate musical viewpoints to achieve a single, beautifully-honed musical statement ultimately carries the day.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Istvan Grencso & Surprise Kollektiv
  • CD Title: Dream Car
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: KVB
  • Rating: Four Stars
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