Sunday, August 6, 2017

Gabor Szabo - 1966 [1998] "Spellbinder" [Japan Import]

Spellbinder is an album by Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó featuring performances recorded in 1966 for the Impulse! label.[1] The album contains "Gypsy Queen" which was covered together with Fleetwood Mac's "Black Magic Woman" by Santana on his 1970 Abraxas album. Wiki.

Released just six months after Gypsy '66, Gabor Szabo's second album as a leader (after leaving a sublime Chico Hamilton band that also included Charles Lloyd) remains one of his finest moments in the studio. Szabo utilized the tales of bassist Ron Carter and his old boss Hamilton on drums, as well as a pair of fine Latin percussionists -- Willie Bobo and Victor Pantoja. The groove quotient was very high on Spellbinder, maybe even higher than on later albums such as Jazz Raga or Sorcerer. This set is all Szabo, drifting, wafting, and soaring above all that rhythm; the track selection provides ample space for Szabo's highly individualized Eastern modal style to shine. The set opens with the title track, a snaky guitar masterpiece with plenty of droning strings and pinched chords that are followed by open string flourishes. Carter holds the entire band together as Hamilton plays in counterpoint to the percussionists. This is followed with two nuggets from the pop book of the day, the Coleman/Leigh classic "Witchcraft" and "It Was a Very Good Year." From the performances here, it's apparent that Szabo was deeply influenced by singers, and Frank Sinatra was at his pinnacle during this time. There's the emerging '60s psychedelic sound in Szabo's playing, but it is underlaid with bossa rhythms and swells. These tracks, while flavored with Latin and pop stylings, are gorgeous guitar jazz. Szabo gets back into his own mystic thang with "Gypsy Queen" (the opening droning moments of which the Doors lifted entirely for "The End"). Here the Latin rhythms and guitar go head to head, point to counterpoint. A pronounced yet elusive melody line propels a series of polyrhythms forward into an abyss of melody, mode, and frighteningly intense legato phrasing, leaving the listener breathless. He takes the edge off with Sonny Bono's "Bang Bang (She Shot Me Down)." Szabo sings here in his plaintive Hungarian-inflected English, and the tune becomes something other than a pop song, but a tome on despair and loss. The funky "Cheetah" follows with gorgeous arpeggios, pointedly turning into chords of distinction as Hamilton rides the crash cymbal into territories unknown and double-times the band until it notches up the intensity. This set follows with one more Szabo original ("Yearning") and a trio of standards, with a heartbreakingly beautiful read of "My Foolish Heart" and a medley of "Autumn Leaves" and "Speak to Me of Love." Szabo's read on jazz in the '60s was brilliant. He embodied all of its most popular aspirations with a genuine spirit of innovation and adventure. Spellbinder is a masterpiece. All Music.

I love Jazz Guitar and have many many albums by the best in the business ;Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, Herb Ellis, Wes Montgomery, Bill Frissell, JIm Hall and many others....

Of all the Jazz GUitar albums i own, Spellbinder album by Gabor Szabo is one of my favourites....his tone is utterly unique and coming from Hungary (eurpoe), has definietly added to his flavour.

on Spellbinder the arrangement with a tonne of percussion and bass lays a huge spacious foundation for Gabor Szabo to paint over the top....there are no other treble instruments to get in his way....its all there for Gabor Szabo to rip on and he does!

A great album opened me up to his other works and i bought two other albums which are also good, but Spellbinder is my even has the vocal track 'Bang Bang- my baby shot me down ' on it, the famous track that was used, on the movie Kill Bill.

One of my favourite Jazz Guitar albums. By Grant Green.

This album, heard at a friend's house in the late 60s, left an indelible memory. I decided to seek it out to find out whether it was as good as I remembered. The answer is yes. It's not just Szabo's guitar, but the accompaniment and recording, as well: Ron Carter, bass; Rudy Van Gelder, engineer, Bob Thiele, producer. The latin percussion is likewise mesmerizing. Wonderful. By InTents.

Many rock listeners who graduated to jazz will have picked up the scent, so to speak, of Gabor Szabo; he was the composer of the "Gypsy Queen", played by Santana on the extraordinary first side of "Abraxas".

Such listeners would have been disconcerted, perhaps, when they heard this, as I was, many years ago. Szabo's recording was only remotely connected in mood to the Santana performance. But, with time, I picked up on the excellence of the performance. A common transition when rock listeners made the transition to jazz, the bigger vehicle, the mother music of America, and increasingly, Europe.

Hungary has the same mythic connection to music as African America. Perhaps this is rubbish, harmless or insidious of limiting stereotype, I don't know. But Szabo (of damnably short life, dying in his forties in '82) was Hungarian, fleeing the country when the drunkards of the USSR cracked down on the opening in Budapest in 1956. By this time, the compatriot of Bartok and, in a different way, the "Gypsies" had discovered American jazz music. Itself an affront to the Communists.

So America got Szabo. What there is of "Gypsy" here, I'm not sure. The exotic element is the Latin American percussion: there are two Latin percussionists here, the entirety driven by the machine beat of the great Chico Hamilton, who had previously featured Szabo on one of his unpredictable albums. At that time, Szabo and Hamilton were associated with Charles Lloyd, the tenor saxophonist. Lloyd is absent on "Spellbinder", a relief to this listener; I find his alternate copyings of Coltrane and Ornette Coleman cloying, and as domineering as Flip Phillip's excursions on "Jazz at the Philharmonic".

This is a minimalist, percussion-dominated record. The great bassist Ron Carter stays in the background here, and the leader himself, using a wooden guitar with pickup (I think), plays remarkably but subtly throughout, no guitargoddism here. Because the only soloist plays for the music, not the solo (rather like Miles Davis), a second soloist (reed, or perhaps a violin) isn't missed.

He's most at home playing his own compositions, but does reasonably well on standards, "My foolish heart", in this case. The Sonny Bono number succeeds, too, over the whole, but I'm sorry to say that I could have done without the singing. Szabo isn't a bad singer, but it seemed to me out of place.

My copy is a Japanese import. Very good sound, over the whole; it wouldn't have been hard to record this properly, and not hard to remaster, I wouldn't think. Good job, in any case, though I think it could be said that the bass (Ron Carter) isn't quite properly salient. By (((Marco Buendia))).

Track listing:

All compositions by Gábor Szabó except as indicated

1 "Spellbinder" - 5:30
2 "Witchcraft" (Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh) - 4:39
3 "It Was a Very Good Year" (Ervin Drake) - 2:47
4 "Gypsy Queen" - 5:13
5 "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" (Sonny Bono) - 2:28
6 "Cheetah" - 4:10
7 "My Foolish Heart" (Ned Washington, Victor Young) - 5:28
8 "Yearning" - 2:59
9 "Autumn Leaves/Speak to Me of Love" (Joseph Kosma, Jacques Prévert, Johnny Mercer/Jean Lenoir) - 3:35


Gábor Szabó - guitar, vocals
Ron Carter - bass
Chico Hamilton – drums
Willie Bobo, Victor Pantoja - percussion