KALMAN OLAH / Contrasts and Parallels
The basic idea for the recording, “Contrasts and Parallels” actually came from producer Todd Garfinkle. A few years ago, as we were in the planning stages and thinking of what to do for MA, Todd suggested that we record my own jazz trio version of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, but that we should finish the record with a couple of Hungarian folk song adaptations. At first I couldn’t relate to the idea, because I thought that these two musical worlds were very far from each other. Then however, I realized that there are at least as many “parallels” as “contrasts” to be found, if you’re really looking. It is enough just to mention Béla Bartók, in whose late compositions the stylistic elements of Hungarian and Oriental folk music are significantly complemented by a contrapuntal development that clearly refers to J. S. Bach.
Alright, but the question then was: “How can I make these genres connect with each other, if I am to convey both of them through the improvisational language of jazz?” Clearly, there is an absolute need for a general idea that will recognizably join — even for the uninitiated – the different musical worlds involved. I didn’t have to ponder for too long before I hit on the obvious key concept: “VARIATION”. This offered a natural connection to jazz, as the classical music form that stands closest to this genre is none other than the variation form. From this point the solution came rather naturally: I divided the content of the record into two parts, where the first part consisted of “Variations on Bach’s Goldberg Variations”, in which besides the original, but reinterpreted Bach themes, my own “variations” or improvisations can also be heard, unfolding from certain motifs and harmonies in Bach`s music. The second part consists of my own composition based on a Hungarian folk song but developed through the forms of classical music, and of course, the improvisational parts are not missing either. That is how the piece called “Variations on a Folk Song” was conceived. I feel that in this work, I succeeded in creating a synthesis of three different musical styles (jazz- Baroque-folk music), whereas the first part consist of only two. The synthesis is most successful in the movement entitled “Passacaglia”, since Passacaglia is one of the variational forms used in Baroque music, and here the Passacaglia theme is created from the basic motif of the folk song that is constantly present behind the Baroque and jazz style variations.
Obviously, this kind of production needed partners who are extremely open to all three musical worlds, and we found them in János Egri and Ferenc Németh.
After the two suites, we end the record with a short musical “afterthought”, in which a folk song singer with an extraordinary and original voice, Irén Lovász sings. This “Afterthought” was written in homage to Béla Bartók, who also adapted this beautiful, simple folk song in his masterpiece entitled “Mikrokosmos.” Bartók’s music has always had a very special place in my heart, his style greatly influencing my work both as a jazz pianist and a composer. For me, next to Bach, Bartók is the greatest composer. In both their musics, contrasting concepts such as “liberty — constraint” “consciousness – intuition” or “complexity – simplicity” have an equally significant role.
More than likely, while the name Kálmán Oláh is new for most jazz enthusiasts, he is probably the most popular jazz pianist in Hungary today. I was introduced to his music a few years ago thru some fine recordings produced by a Korean company called Good International (There website is in Korean only: www.goodco.co.kr. e-mail them at: firstname.lastname@example.org ) that MA in Japan has been distributing since around the year 2000. The first of these recordings was a double CD set of J. S. Bach`s Goldberg Variations, with arrangements for string orchestra, played here by the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, as well as piano/bass jazz improvisations, with Kálmán on piano and Mini Schulz (from Germany) on bass. What is perhaps most interesting about this recording is that there is one jazz improvistion for every few string orchestra variations. And, the jazz is really first rate!
“Good” also released the string orchestra version, without the jazz duets, but never saw the potential, I suppose, in putting out the jazz duets on their own. I strongly felt that Kálmán`s music had to be heard by jazz lovers, not just classical fans, the above mentioned recording essentially promoted only as a classical album. So, I decided to do something about this, did a little searching on the internet and successfully made contact with Kálmán some time in late 2000. I immediately proposed that he do a jazz trio version of the Goldberg, only later introducing my ideas about Hungarian folk music.
After some years of discussion (and waiting) the recording date was finally set for the early summer of 2003. We moved one of the best Hamburg Steinways available in Hungary (borrowed from Hungaraton Studios) into a small, modern church in the suburbs of Budapest and recorded the album over a period of three evenings. Kálmán is joined by his brother-in-law János Egri on bass and the young, and now quite well known drummer, Ferenc Németh (please go to: www.ferencnemeth.com ). While it has taken about three years for the production to be completed and presentable, I think that the musical rewards are many and of certainly hope you do as well.
As for the technical aspects of the recording, “Contrasts + Parallels” was recorded on a Sony 7030 Professional DAT machine with MA’s own line level, DC powered microphones (utilizing B & K diaphragms) . One 12 meter pair of Cardas cables were used from the microphones to the recorder.
Todd Garfinkle MA producer/engineer
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