BOOTLEG SYMPHONY (Periferic BGCD 080)
ZONGORAZENE/MUSIC FOR PIANO (X-Produkcio XP-006)
LELEKTANC (DANCE OF SPIRIT) (Schober KKT SKKTCD 202)
After Crying made their second public American performance (not counting their “unplugged” concert by invitation at the Hungarian embassy in New York City shortly after their appearance at the Orion – as reviewed here earlier) at the 2001 North East Art Rock Festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, better known as NEARfest. It was an excellent concert and won them many new fans and admirers.
As usual, the band’s tour manager and Periferic Records owner Gregory was there, sitting behind a table on which he had all of the band’s albums on display, including a new one and two more albums by After Crying’s founder, Csaba Vedres. Naturally, I bought copies – and only wished my budget included the opportunity to check out some of the other albums by other Periferic bands also on display.
The new After Crying album is still not the now long-awaited new studio album. It’s instead the “edited release” of a “bootleg recording of After Crying’s Symphonic Concert.” The CD refers us to After Crying’s official website for “further photos, information and thoughts about the concert and the first bootleg symphony ever,” but the site has relatively little to say (so far) about this new album: “After Crying gave a special symphonic show last year in front of more than one thousand people at the Music Academy in Budapest on the 2nd of October with a 33 member ensemble. They played pieces of the last ten years in modern chamber and symphonic orchestration. All the tickets had been sold out a week before the event, so the band decided to give such concerts from now on a regular base both in homeland and abroad.”
Bassist/cellist Peter Pejtsik and trumpeter/keyboardist Balazs Winkler did the “symphonic arrangements and orchestrations” which essentially restore to orchestral instruments those parts previously played by synthesizers aping an orchestra. The music is all familiar to After Crying fans – with the possible exception of the use of King Crimson’s “Great Deceiver” as an interpolation in “Struggle For Life II.” The concert as heard here (“edited”) runs for about 55 minutes, ending with sustained applause. Despite the “bootleg” characterization (“stereo bootleg recording: Lakatos Gergely”), the sound is rich and full and could pass for “professional.” (Did he sneak a minidisc recorder in? Ain’t modern technology wunnerful?) The orchestrations are subtle and masterfully crafted – and include the four-handed piano piece, “Burlesque.” (At NEARfest Winkler and fellow keyboard player Zoltan Lengyel played “Burlesque” sitting side by side at one keyboard; when they played it at the Orion it had been on separate keyboards. The new configuration allowed them to ham it up a bit more visually, as they reached across each other to play certain notes.) These are solid live performances which are in no way condescending toward After Crying’s music, but sound like natural extensions of it in a symphonic concert setting.
I’m reminded of the live recordings on ELSO EVTIZED which made use of an orchestra, to equally good effect. As the band points out on its website, they “performed many shows with different formations from an acoustic quartet to a 15 member ensemble or a guitar based rock band” in the course of their career. Here the entire current After Crying band, plus eight guest soloists, perform with a full orchestra conducted by Pejtsik and Winkler.
The band’s site also offers a number of thoughts about how the band composes and what it thinks of the “progressive rock” label.
On composition: “Starting to work on a new album, we never say, ‘What if we’d put two violins and three flutes together and see what would come out of it?’ We do experiment, but each of us goes through this process on his own, and when it comes to recording we have a clear conception what we want to achieve, we don’t want to experiment. Our point is not to make something different in order to express originality as such – our focus is that our music should be full of meaning, emotion and energy, should be true, logical, and consequent. Our collective thinking, taste, and approach make After Crying special. We have had our own intellectual world for almost 20 years now, deeply rooted in European traditions. Each album reflects that world and the spirit of the whole band.” This is of course After Crying’s real strength and the source of their originality.
On the actual process of composing new material: “While the current line-up includes eight members, the five-member core is responsible for all composing, writing, etc. Basically Pejtsik, Torma and Winkler compose the music, [Gabor] Egervári and [Tamás] Görgényi write the lyrics and words. The three composers work on their own at home, making everything from the whole compositions to small fragments. Görgényi is the one who collects all those materials and listening to it many times, then he selects those parts, tunes, sounds which he finds worth to work with and started to work out the conception of the album. Then we start to work with the selected stuff cutting bars, notes, parts, words and throw them away or paste them into another place, trying out many-many different versions, tasting the uncompleted compositions again and again... It is a long phase, about 5-6 months. We mutually form the ideas of each other. Every tiny detail has to serve the whole. We come together many times to judge what we did, every notes and words have to fight against the five of us for their right to be in the album. We are awfully hard on each other and this process takes a vast of endless conversations and arguments, but there is no hard feelings. We always know that we will find the best solution, which should be accepted by all of us. Everyone brings ideas and suggests modifications in the music and the words as well, but the final elaboration of every piece has to be made on strictly professional base, so in that phase composers deal with the music and lyricist with the lyrics. In the studio basically the composers and the engineer control the work, while Egervári and Görgényi watch their efforts with argus-eye from the view of the conception and After Crying spirit, and we continuously discuss and check everything very narrowly with each other. So it is a long collective and very Sysiphean job.” This would seem to explain the long wait between several of the studio albums – the next is due late in 2001 or in 2002.
About the “progressive” label: “Similarly to the best so called prog bands (ELP, King Crimson, Yes); we never wanted to be progressive. It’s only a term, and not a very apt one because of its rather misty meaning. The only benefit in being labeled as a prog band is the fact that those very few present-day musicians we really esteem are mentioned in this category too. Of course, it is obvious for us that Keith Emerson, Robert Fripp, John Wetton and the few other really significant artists always want to make impressive, intelligent, and important music, and never care if it’s progressive or not, if it fits in any label or not. So do we. We want to make contemporary music and we feel that the ‘progressive’ box is often too narrow for that. It is when progression means the following of a fashion even if it’s some kind of counter-fashion against the commercial and popular ones. We care only the word we want to transmit and the complex impact of our music on the people who listen to it without prejudice and preconceptions. We feel that the totality of each composition is more than the sum of its components such as virtuosity, intricate rhythms, sophisticated chord changes, breathtaking solos, and fantastic sound, because we profess that without that integral synthesis all these efforts are meaningless.
“As a matter of fact, we are a little bit ambivalent with this ‘progressive’ thing. We are interested only in music general, but not in labels and categories. ELP and King Crimson were always and are now the real contemporary music for us, and they never labeled themselves as ‘progressive.’ They wanted to make contemporary music just as we do. What these two bands and their determinant members did, in our book, are above all the other music of our time. The current progressive world is a very narrow community, everybody knows everybody in person, so it is like a family. However, it’s great to belong to this family, because the ‘progressive’ audience is the most wonderful we ever met. And almost the same goes with the magazines, journalists in prog circuits. But we want to bring our music and productions [to a] much wider scale of people. In the current progressive scene there are tons of very talented and skilled musicians, and very few good composers. We feel that in most of the cases to be progressive means trying to play as many notes per second as possible, to be very complicated and to play as long pieces as possible.” This last strikes me as exactly right.
They also have this to say about their departed founder: “[The] departure of Vedres Csaba in 1994 didn’t surprise most of us at all. It was predictable that sooner or later he’d want to make some drastic change. He is a leader type individual and from time to time there come periods in his life when he does not want to adapt himself to anyone in his work. At such times he usually leaves the people who just then work with him, and he looks for new partners. (Just like he did it again with Townscream.) I think it’s very important for him to feel that everything and everyone are depending on him, and he could not get this feeling in After Crying anymore. So the main motive for his departure was in his personality. Like most really talented people Csaba was always a difficult person to get along with. We were very close friends and I frankly hope that someday it will be the same way again. Perhaps none believed, Csaba the less, that if he’d someday quit, After Crying would still go on. Well, we decided to go on and it seems we have moved forward in every point of view. No doubt we lost a great composer, but finally we gained three no lesser great composers. I think it’s not a bad deal.” It’s unclear who the “I” who voiced those opinions was; it may have been Tamás Görgényi, who wrote an interesting diary (also on the website) detailing the band’s adventures in Mexico and Venezuela. (Note that in Hungary the given name follows the family name, and this practice is followed in the above quotation.)
While I continue to mourn for the apparently-dead Townscream, I can rejoice in Vedres’ new releases (both released in the year 2000). In them Vedres crosses the line between rock and classical music effortlessly and without affectation. He brings a fine classical keyboard technique to bear upon a sensibility which ranges from rock to Gershwin to Bartok. Both of these albums are presented as classical music, in terms of packaging and labels, and LELEKTANC presents seven actual classical compositions (by Bach, Telemann, Faure and Massenet) sandwiched among Vedres’ own.
ZONGORAZENE is the one After Crying fans will want the most. Like MESEK, LEVELEK (reviewed elsewhere here), it is a solo piano outing, and two of the pieces (“C-sharp-dorian Concertetude” and “Black Mood”) use themes which were also used by After Crying. Vedres’ pianistic style is “orchestral” and listening to this album is not unlike listening to After Crying. The music ranges as far and as widely and is fully as rewarding. The CD clocks in at 48:14 – about the length of a solo piano recital. Think of it in those terms.
LELEKTANC is entirely different. Here Vedres plays organ. It sounds like a real pipe organ, but in this age of digital synthesizers and samplers, who can say? (Perhaps if I could read Hungarian, I’d know; the notes for this CD, which was released by the same label which released MESEK, LEVELEK, are entirely in Hungarian.) On several tracks he is joined by Julia Gyerman, who plays violin and sings soprano on Faure’s “Pie Jesu.” As mentioned above, the album weaves Vedres’ own compositions with those of four classical composers. The effect is a suite of music which does indeed celebrate a “Dance Of Spirit.” Most of it does not sound very much like After Crying, however. (A partial exception is “Improvizacio,” a very possibly improvised piece which is pure Vedres and could have been used by either Townscream or After Crying although it is evocative of neither.) Here, in this album’s performance of classical works we see another side of the well-rounded Vedres. Indeed, with the album clocking in at 49:29, only 22:32 of that is Vedres’ own music – less than half of the total. But, within the context of this album that hardly matters. Vedres has demonstrated his ability to walk among the giants with his head held high.
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