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Daniel Szabo: Visionary (Fuzzy Music)

A review of the pianist's album co-produced by Peter Erskine

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Visionary by Daniel Szabo
The cover of Visionary by Daniel Szabo

The great jazz soundtracks—The Sweet Smell of Success, Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder, I Want to Live—were performed by a small group or an orchestra, sometimes both at once. Regardless of instrumentation, they were at their core true jazz works, as unmistakable as a swing beat. Along comes self-described “visionary” and pianist Daniel Szabo, with his contemporary take on the jazz soundtrack performed by a small group and an orchestra. Co-produced by Peter Erskine and released on his Fuzzy Music label, Visionary “integrates jazz, classical, film and folk musics,” Szabo writes in the liner notes.

Performed by a crew including Erskine and saxophonists Kim Richmond and Bob Sheppard, Visionary swings lightly and shines as sweetly as a California sunset. (No surprise, since it was recorded in Glendale, California.) It recalls such Hollywood blockbusters as Mr. Holland’s Opus, The Competition, and The Soloist, heart-wrenching tales of love, laughter, and occasional intrigue. Frothy, light, sometimes dramatic, Visionary seems serious enough—or is it simply a vehicle for Szabo to garner soundtrack work? James Newton Howard and Friends (1983) was a similar album, cut with crack L.A. musicians and aimed at breaking Howard into the competitive world of Hollywood soundtracks. It worked.

Frankly, any other overarching point is tough to find here. What makes otherwise great musicians revel in the equivalent of morning mist and falling leaves? Even an orchestral take on Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” is robbed of its beauty, swallowed whole by whimsical rhythms and a vacant arrangement. The convergence of jazz, orchestral music, and soundtracks never sounded this tepid.

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Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.