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Ferenc Nemeth: Triumph

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The cover of Ferenc Nemeth’s third album as a leader depicts Hungary’s leading jazz percussionist juggling 13 drumsticks, all suspended in midair, a fitting image for this vertiginous collection of polyrhythms and odd time signatures composed entirely by Nemeth. With a woodwind sextet playing backgrounds, Joshua Redman, Kenny Werner and Lionel Loueke come dressed for the party, which is certainly more classically influenced than they’re used to.

Nemeth comes from a classical background, having studied at Richter János Conservatory and the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Hungary before building his jazz chops at Berklee, where he met Nicolas Sorin, who arranged the woodwind parts, and Loueke, with whom he later formed the multicultural trio Gilfema. (Closing track “Hope II” removes any doubt that the two share a psychic connection.) Nemeth went on to do graduate work at New England Conservatory, where he clearly absorbed Gunther Schuller’s Third Stream aesthetic; he deftly bridges the gap in the musical family tree between Hungarian giants Béla Bartók and Franz Liszt and Elvin Jones at his most free-floating.

The album opens with a piercing guitar pedal followed by the phantasmagorical entrance of Redman, Werner and Nemeth (on cymbals), an ominous sound that seems to conjure Hungarian folklore. This seamlessly resolves itself in the driving title track, which incorporates funk rhythms and enters the unhinged territory of Chick Corea’s Three Quartets; Michael Brecker’s presence is keenly felt, with Redman’s lithe runs up and down the tenor complemented by Loueke’s percussive vocalizations. Nemeth breaks up the album with four interludes: plangent solo guitar from Loueke; a free-for-all duo between drums and saxophone; Nemeth on solo drums, channeling the restraint and rhythmic ideas of Max Roach; and Werner alone on piano, on what feels almost like a lost piece from Liszt’s “Transcendental” etudes.

Originally Published