Violist Szilárd Mezei went through a bout of activity between 2006 and 2008, releasing a flurry of albums in various groupings, but mostly with his ensemble (out of which his Nád/Reed CD on Red Toucan is a must-have). Featuring his quintet, Cerkno is a different beast and an excellent point of entry into his world. This album was recorded live at the 2006 International Jazz Cerkno festival in Slovenia. The lineup features members of the violist's larger ensemble: Bogdan Rankovic on bass clarinet and alto sax, pianist Milan Aleksic, bassist Ervin Malina, and drummer István Csik. Except for the opening "Collective Improvisation," all the music was penned by Mezei, and most of the 11 tracks segue to form a continuous performance. With his larger groupings, Mezei writes complex and demanding music that often turns out more painstakingly scored when it sounds freer, and more loosely notated when it sounds jazzier. Flip that rule around for his quintet. Cerkno is a jazz record, first and foremost, with the "avant-garde" subgenre playing a more discreet though ever-present part. Still, you will hear on this album less of an Anthony Braxton influence (very strong on Mezei's ensemble recordings) and more of an Eric Dolphy influence. You will also hear a lot more of Mezei the performer. Although still young and a newcomer when this was recorded, his playing on the viola is already highly personal and distinctive, second maybe only to Mat Maneri in terms of originality and expression. Highlights abound, including the relentless theme in "Rokka," the bass solo in "Cougar," and the double-switching between written material, improvisation, and back to written material in the sequence "Inkább"/"Játék"/"Az a Tánc." Mezei, playing a little-used instrument and hailing from a remote part of the jazz world (Serbia-Montenegro), is quietly making a foray into avant-garde jazz, and Cerkno, although not his best-recorded CD, establishes him as a force, both as composer and performer.
by François Couture