Gabor Szabo

Nightflight

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In the 1970s, Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo pursued a highly individual take on the mercurial space where jazz and pop met funk. He was also no stranger to large orchestrations, dating back to his work with producers Gary McFarland and Bob Thiele. But beginning with 1971's High Contrast on Blue Thumb and carrying all the way through his CTI sides -- Rambler and Mizrab in 1973 -- he had blended all of his seemingly disparate interests together without sacrificing his own voice; namely, his signature guitar style. After 1975's Salvation release, Macho, produced by Bob James, Szabo signed to Mercury. Nightflight is his debut for the label. In hindsight, given the popularity of Barry White and the sophisticated Philly Soul sound in general, it was only a question of time before the guitarist got there. Teaming with producer/arranger/multi-instrumentalist Bunny Sigler and a host of Philly's hottest session players -- including Dexter Wansel on synths and composer Ritchie Rome (who, along with Sigler, handled the large-scale arrangements) -- at Sigma Sound Studio, Szabo created a pop disco album that bled straight through jazz and onto the club floor. Opener "Concorde (Nightflight)" was an underground -- and now almost a de rigueur -- DJ staple because of its spacy flamenco groove, cinematic horns, and bubbling synths. "Baby Rattle Snake" was downright funky, with its angular wah-wah guitar lines, chunky horns, and rubbery basslines. "Keep Smilin'," a Sigler nugget that had scored on the charts before, was given a nearly eight-minute treatment. With Szabo's deep-grooving solo atop pulsing keyboards, wafting synths, and a steady bassline vamp, it hit FM radio. Mercury subsequently released an edit that became the guitarist's biggest hit. The set's most beautiful track, however, is "Every Minute Counts," with a funky Wes Montgomery-esque guitar vamp weaving in and out of a rich, luscious woodwind, horn, and string chart and a soulful, hovering, backing chorus. Closer "Smooth Sailin'" features one of his two vocals on the set. His melancholic, understated delivery becomes just another instrument in this breezy groover. Nightflight is stronger than his CTI dates because Szabo is far more comfortable in a setting where the record label's sound doesn't need to assert itself over his own. The softer, more lustrous production by Sigler reflects a better understanding of Szabo as an artist, making Nightflight an all-around winner. [The Dutton Vocalian reissue includes three bonus tracks: the edited 45 A- and-B-side versions of "Keep Smilin' and "Baby Rattle Snake," as well as a wholly unedited take on "Keep Smilin'."]

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