Listen to a snippet of Horror Vacui from Plastic Septet, and you’ll soon realise there’s nothing artificial about this music. Neither the choice of instruments nor the relationship to music as medium of feeling and messages permits such an association. What we do sense is the extent to which the seven musicians strive for plasticity in their musical expression.
The name refers to an earlier formation, Plastic Ohara (the forerunner of the Septet), which had its first incarnation while the members were still at school around 1993, and was first called Lekvártett (“Jam Quartet”). That too had Gábor Brezovcsik on guitar alongside the pioneering figure of alto saxophonist Gábor Lukács, with bass guitarist Dániel Szerető and drummer András Halmos in the rhythm section. Ohara became a settled formation in the second half of the 1990s, though several members had changed. János Vázsonyi on modulated saxophone, Gergő Katona on trombone, András Szőnyi on keyboards, Krisztián Keszei and Sándor Mester on electric guitar all played in it for a time. When it became the Ohara Septet, Szerető and Halmos were replaced by bassist Péter Nagy and drummer András Mohay, to approach a more traditionally jazz sound, and other changes were made too. Also because of the search for a different sound, Ferenc Schreck’s trombone gave way to Keve Abonczy’s bass clarinet. The electric instruments also took their leave. Another staple member of Plastic, Dániel Váczi on sopranino sax has like Brezovcsik remained a pillar of the formation, and today the two of them write the majority of compositions.
Plastic Septet goes back to 2006, but their profile has not rigidified; to this day they keep searching for a path. One thing is certainly characteristic of them: scrutiny of the area between avantgard jazz and contemporary music. There are steadily more compositions built of carefully written sections, which have a well-defined role for improvisation. This dual path is reflected by the background, history and style of the musicians too: Keve Abloczy is a classical musician, Gábor Brezovcsik also has classical training and Boglárka Fábry, who makes a guest appearance on this disc, graduated as a classical percussionist. The others came from the jazz world, but are equally at home in other genres. What they create is an improvisatory music; neither swing nor fusion, yet based on jazz, using harmonies and sometimes structural solutions from contemporary classical music; a music that defies any attempt to pigeon-hole it.
Ten of the sixteen tracks of Horror Vacui were written by Dániel Váczi. Some of these featured on the saxophonist’s first trio disc, with a different approach and of course different instrumentation. Others will be on the Dániel Váczi Trio’s new album of 2008. Most of Gábor Brezovcsik’s six compositions were written for the guitarist’s Brezo Quartet (where of course they have a different sound and feel), but Code 326 and Release are brand new pieces. The striking track titles immediately set the listener thinking, but each enigma can be solved. The opening Igor (as you may have guessed) is Stravinsky, and the twelve-tone pieces Mad I-IV pay respect to composer Iván Madarász, teacher of Dániel Váczi and other members (the title refers to his surname). The four-movement Camino points to the Spanish pilgrimage. On page 326 of Saint-Exupéry’s book Citadelle can be found information important for Gábor Brezovcsik: hence the title Code 326. Brezovcsik wrote Alamo at the time of Plastic Ohara, but here it is played in drummer András Mohay’s style, or “à la Mo(hay)”. Mostly Harmless: this is the definition ascribed to the planet Earth in Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Bill’s Holiday refers to guitarist Bill Frisell, and also of course to the jazz diva. Another woman appears, Dániel Váczi’s wife, whose name read backwards is Akron. Hochmec (Hochmetz) in Yiddish means beating around the bush: this piece featured in the repertoire of the band Nigun.
The titles don’t always arise from “deep thought”, but are rather the result of an impulse. The pieces, by contrast, come of careful, painstaking work and path-seeking, says Dániel Váczi. He is taciturn about his sources of inspiration. Bach is definitely amongst them, one of the most important – less in the form of directly musical solutions, as in the endeavour for perfection. Gábor Brezovcsik is in awe of Frank Zappa’s genius and inimitable creativity. As regards inspiration beyond the world of sound, they rarely come from sensations or experiences, whether visual or emotional. More commonly, the music is born of structural, mathematical or logical games. In Hochmec, in 7/4 metre, instead of a regular seven-beat pulse Váczi thinks in divisions of six and eight. Mad I-IV uses the Schoenbergian row system. The four movements of Camino (Spanish for path) represent four kinds of path, which can all be found in the basic theme. And in the first ten bars of Code 326 Brezovcsik hides a kind of note puzzle.
Why the attraction to dissonance? Dániel Váczi believes that the time is over when things could be said honestly and true to the Zeitgeist with consonant chords. Not to mention the fact that even Bach used chords so dissonant they were unusual for his time. We shouldn’t forget that each person, each mental state, has a different perception of pleasurable or displeasurable tension in music, and we sense differently the need for resolution. Those who prefer “simple” triads will find less to delight them in Plastic Septet’s music that those willing to wander through the apparently random (but actually well-planned) rows of dodecaphonic music.
Recording took place in May 2007, with much investment of time and energy. It was no small task to get the busy musicians together for the number of days necessary to record. László Válik, who works as partner to guitarist Dániel Váczi in the Kada Ad Libitum band, has done the final mixing of many discs, and here too he took on the role not just of sound engineer, but of mixing and making the master. He is practically a ninth member of the line-up.
Horror vacui means abhorrence of a vacuum. According to Aristotle, nature abhors a vacuum, so there is no space into which gasses or fluids will not flow. This principal of philosophy and the natural sciences has been refuted in various ways. In art, the abhorrence of a vacuum is expressed in ornamentation run wild, filling every available space, the opposite pole to minimalism. The music of Plastic Septet abounds in densely layered parts, and mutually complementary motives. Abhorrent? Hardly. Playful? Most definitely.