Hermann Szobel

Szobel

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The enigmatic Hermann Szobel's only album was made marginally less obscure when Mike Magnuson mentioned it in his 2002 autobiographical novel, Lummox, as a precious treasure around which his beer-swilling, jazz-obsessed protagonists congregate. The back cover carries a love note from Roberta Flack, a hearty plug from Arista's then-resident jazz mogul, Steve Backer, espousing "a very significant career," and special thanks to Flack and Bill Graham. The pianist, 18 years old when the record appeared and photographed naked to the waist at his keyboard, not only composed but also arranged and produced the whole affair, then promptly vanished (Magnuson's characters hear rumors of a mental home). Szobel's soloing runs to simplistic spirals up or down octaves on the opener, "Mr. Softee," but his compositional strengths handily unfurl, and indeed spotting a conventional jazz solo in this set is difficult in a good way. Working not so much in jazz or fusion than in instrumental prog rock or modern classical, he alternately unites, distributes, matches, and contrasts the timbres of five men playing ten instruments on constantly challenging charts. In the early going of "The Szuite," reedman Vadim Vyadro, as otherwise unknown as his leader, jumps through tenor sax octaves nimble as a commuter running for a train, switches to clarinet for a reflective passage accompanied only by vibist David Samuels (Spyro Gyra), then picks the tenor back up for a fresh shot at the hurdles. For "Transcendental Floss" Vyadro unleashes a voluminous run with well-timed shrieks over a an angular, irregular meter. "New York City, 6 A.M." updates the Viscounts' "Harlem Nocturne" with sax as the shuddering subway cars, bass and drums as the clicking of traffic lights. It fades, and with it any knowledge of this distinctive composer, or the whereabouts of the master tapes for a much-needed CD reissue, leaving listeners, as Roberta Flack sang sadly many years later, and probably not with Szobel in mind, "thinking of what might have been."

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