Gabor Szabo

High Contrast

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Recorded in 1970 for Blue Thumb with producer Tommy LiPuma and engineer Bruce Botnick, High Contrast, issued in 1971, represents one of the more remarkable collaborations in Gabor Szabo's career. The Hungarian guitarist enlisted Bobby Womack as both rhythm guitarist and as a composer -- he contributed four of these seven tunes. The rest of the band included drummer Jim Keltner, bassists Wolfgang Melz and Phil Upchurch, and conguero Felix "Flaco" Falcon, as well as a couple of other percussionists. Predating Bob James' One by three years, and issued in the same annum as Grover Washington, Jr.'s Inner City Blues, High Contrast is a truly wonderful early exercise in highly polished, funky jazz. The opener is "Breezin'," a cut that would become a standard after George Benson's smash version in 1976, but it's arguably the first smooth jazz tune. The instrumental version of "If You Don't Want My Love" is a precursor to the vocal one that appeared on the soundtrack for Across 110th Street (the classic union of Womack with J.J Johnson) in 1972, and the funky "Communication" that would appear in many forms over the rest of the singer's career. Szabo also delivers a few stellar originals, showcasing his signature fusion of Hungarian folk music, jazz, psychedelic rock, and Eastern modal sounds, including the punchy, serpentine "Amazon" and "Azure Blue," with its CTI-styled string charts swirling in the backdrop amid the interplay between Szabo and Womack. High Contrast sounds as if the many musical experiments Szabo had undertaken up to this point had gelled into a seductive, grooved-out whole that created a real template for crossover jazz to follow. It stands with his very best work, as soulful and visionary in the 21st century as it was upon its release.

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