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Kálman Oláh: Always

Kálman Oláh’s first U.S. release exceeds the high expectations created by his excellent press in Europe and his first prize at the 2006 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Composers Competition. He is a fully developed, finished pianist with a seductive touch and a continuous lyricism on material that never follows a linear process but rather flows and swirls. You can get lost-euphorically lost-in the reveries of Oláh’s music.

He is from Hungary, of Romany (Gypsy) parentage, and graduated from the Béla Bartók Conservatory in Budapest. He is interested in blending jazz with contemporary classical and Hungarian folk music. Paradoxically, these influences are more apparent in Oláh’s interpretations of standards than in his own compositions. For example, “Polymodal Blues (Homage to Béla Bartók)” quickly gets past its allusions to Bartók’s polymodal chromaticism and plunges directly into the blues. But “All of You” and “How My Heart Sings” are syncopated and segmented and transformed by concepts that come from outside jazz.

The shortest piece, “Introduction,” is the most revealing of Oláh’s gifts. What it introduces is the song that follows, “Stella by Starlight.” Taken solo, it is like an ever-expanding pool of piano sonorities, some formal, all lush, in which implications of “Stella” can be glimpsed in momentary flashes. It has more magic than the next track, when the theme is stated and becomes merely explicit.

Originally Published