Hungarian-born pianist Daniel Szabo began playing and composing at, and this is no exaggeration, the tender age of four. While a student at USC, he very quickly came to the attention of Bob Mintzer and Alan Pasqua, two gents with impressive credentials going back many years. His mentors have been Bob Brookmeyer, Jerry Bergonzi, Vince Mendoza, Peter Erskine, and others, so one can quite easily guess what has resulted from all that, and one would be quite correct. From the first song onwards, I'm reminded very strongly of Richie Beirach's ECM days and then his later CMP / Blue Note / etc. releases with Dave Liebman and others. Szabo also has that beautiful touch Bill Evans possessed though his vocabulary and phrasing are far more in line with Richie's.
'Lyrical narrative' is the first phrase that pops to mind from the opening measures of Hun-Fro Blues onwards, but don't presuppose that to mean pure melodiousness 'cause this guy throws in all kinds of cool digressions, ornamentalia, time shifts, slurred colorations, and even just single-note toss-offs that make you go "Huh?" and dial the song back a bit, wondering "Did he really do that?"…and yes, he did. All the while, Peter Erskine, one of the best drummers in the biz, and Ed Livingston, a bionic bassist, are like cerebral metronomes, keeping the underlying buzz up in perfect synch—Szabo sometimes adding to it in left hand figurations—and then crafting up variations. And, yeah, that's only the first cut.
With work like this, the jazz aficionado better understands why classicalists are hyped on cats like Glenn Gould—not that Szabo is interpreting anything pre-existent but it sure sounds like it, so my guess is that by the time these compositions reached the studio, he was thinking ahead of himself and indeed riffing on what came before, pushing the evolving ideas even further. This makes the listener lean into the sound and, knowing how the progressions and chord changes are tending, wonder what's coming next. That's always been the cardinal allure of jazz, that interlocking mentation between performer and audient, and though drums and bass get their solos here, superb ones, they're still the matrix, the piano the gem, and Daniel Szabo the guy who facets its raw potential into brilliant evocations. 'Ere long, his is a name you'll see at the forefront of jazz.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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