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Hungarian Jazz Store - Promotional CD

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Hungarian Jazz Store

The jazz scene in Hungary, despite the relative lack of venues, despite a growing but, as yet, not too wide an audience, is magnificent, vibrant and wonderfully varied. It fuses the native talents and passion of Hungarian and Romany Gypsy players, an exuberant folk heritage, a brilliant system of music education and the joy of discovering a world suddenly opened up by the fall of the one-party state.

During the darkest years of oppression jazz was practically banned in Hungary. This was followed, from the end of the fifties, by a gradual softening up of the dictatorship during which jazz became tolerated at first and later began to receive a measure of state support, albeit on a selective and rather arbitrary basis. During the sixties a lot of extremely talented jazzmen have finally found a legitimate domestic platform. Some even acquired a measure of international renown. Jazz festivals were organised that drew a fair number of Western heavyweights. Jazz also came to be taught at the conservatories.

The first flowering of Hungarian jazz obviously took the American mainstream as its model. With eyes shut, one could easily imagine the playing of many Hungarian pianists or bassists (two instruments where there is an oversupply of world-class musicians in the country) to be that of some top ranking American. Where they score over their trans-Atlantic counterparts is their remarkable ability to compose and play in the classical idiom as well.

During the seventies and eighties a specifically Hungarian trend took shape that managed to weld the world of Béla Bartók to that of free jazz in a most refreshing and daring way. Improvisations and compositions began to draw their inspiration from the immense wealth of Hungarian folk-music. A new wave of Hungarian players appeared that used Hungarian folk-music as the springboard for improvisation much the same way black Americans use the blues. Nowadays they tend to move on that curious margin where the sometimes majestically plaintive, sometimes violently passionate music of their homeland meets free jazz. Another well-defined trend in Hungarian jazz is the attempt to fuse the genre with world music.

A recent and most welcome development is the discovery by our numerous Romany Gypsy players of their own musical heritage and the creation of a new brand of Gypsy Jazz. The list is by no means complete. In the mainstream there is an endless supply of outstanding pianists and sax-players. As for the up and coming generation, the competitions organised by Hungarian Radio and the occasional jam sessions in Budapest indicate an astonishing wealth of talent.

In case you miss the naming of concrete examples, let me tell you the omission is quite deliberate. We'd like you to use this quadruple album at your leisure and, freed from the value judgements of critics or of sleeve-note writers like myself, be guided by nothing but your ears!

Péter Pallai
Jazz Curator at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, London

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