Hungarian-born Daniel Szabo is an award-winning jazz pianist and an inventive composer whose original compositions often owe as much to the formal classical tradition as they do to the improvisatory spirit of jazz. Szabo, in effect, combines some of the best of both worlds. His writing combines freedom with control—a combination that makes for some very exciting listening.
A Song From There, his recently released third album, is a case in point. Fronting a trio featuring bassist Edwin Livingston and drummer Peter Erskine, Szabo takes them on a journey through a varied set of original pieces he acknowledges were influenced by the work of a number of classical sources, specifically his countryman, the world-renowned modernist, Bela Bartok. Whether working with a kind of fantasia on the blues, developing dynamic rhythmic ideas, or acknowledging directly his homage to his influences, the historical context of his musical exploration is clearly evident. This is music that rewards attention.
In each of his previous recordings, he had supplemented the trio with a major solo artist—guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel on the 2007 Frictions and saxophonist Chris Potter on the 2010 Contribution. Now it’s all on the trio, and this trio is up to the task.
They open with the punning “Hun-Fro Blues,” a play on Hungarian based Afro-blues. An alternate take closes the set. “Kids’ Dance (Dedicated to Aron and Julia)” plays with dance rhythms, as compared to the exotically complex rhythms of his “Eastynato.” The title song and “I Crooned it Before” both exemplify the composers melodically rich sensibility. “Barbaro Con Brio (Hommage a Bela Bartok)” seems the most directly influenced piece.
Szabo plays with a fine touch—lyrically graceful on the title song, edgy and brittle on the homage to Bartok. And when Livingston and Erskine get the chance to show what they can do, they make the most of it.