I’m stuck at my desk today here at Ground Zero of Corporate Hell (the office) – alone.
It’s just me and the photocopier…and it’s snowing outside…in April.
The good news is that I can unplug my headset from the laptop and blast some heady tunes while I work without the fear of also pissing off any of my colleagues. So that’s a bonus, I guess. And so in combating these “stuck alone in the office” blues I’m blasting some old school psychedelia in the form of the little-known 1966 ‘Spellbinder‘ album by Gabor Szabó.
Okay, so let’s first begin by identifying exactly who the fuck Gabor Szabó is then.
Gabor Szabó was an influential jazz guitarist, famous for mixing jazz, pop-rock and his native Hungarian music. Szabó’s playing tended to incorporate elements of folk music from his native Hungary, from Gypsy and Roma influences, and also rock music’s use of feedback creating a very unique from of psychedelia – call it “Gypsy Psychedelia”, if you will. In fact, Szabó’s mid-1960s jazz/gypsy guitar work also strongly influenced Carlos Santana‘s playing. Indeed, Szabó’s composition ‘Gypsy Queen‘ (also on this album) was used as the second part of Santana’s 1970 treatment of Peter Green‘s composition ‘Black Magic Woman‘, almost down to identical guitar licks.
‘Spellbinder‘ represents Szabó’s second full length album on the Impulse! label and represents one of his finest moments in the studio. Szabó utilized the tales of bassist Ron Carter and his old boss Chico Hamilton on drums, as well as a pair of fine Latin percussionists – Willie Bobo (of Mongo Santamaria* fame) and Victor Pantoja. This set though is all Szabó, drifting, wafting, and soaring above all that rhythm; the track selection provides ample space for Szabó’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 Szabó was deeply influenced by singers, and Frank Sinatra was at his pinnacle during this time. But then there’s the emerging ’60s psychedelic sound in his playing, but it is underlaid with cool bossa rhythms and swells. These tracks, while flavored with Latin and pop stylings, are gorgeous guitar jazz. Szabó gets back into his own mystic thang with ‘Gypsy Queen‘ (the opening droning moments of which the Doors lifted entirely for ‘The End‘). He then takes the edge off with Sonny Bono’s ‘Bang Bang (She Shot Me Down)‘ – yes, Cher’s one and only Sony Bono! How’s that for “Like, WOW, man!“ Except, he sings here in his plaintive Hungarian-inflected English, and the tune therefore 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 Szabó original (‘Yearning‘) and a trio of standards, with a heart-breakingly beautiful read of ‘My Foolish Heart‘ and a medley of ‘Autumn Leaves‘ and ‘Speak to Me of Love‘.
Szabó’s read on jazz in the 60’s was brilliant. He embodied all of its most popular aspirations with a genuine spirit of innovation and adventure. So, basically, as far as gypsy jazz-slash-psychedelia is concerned, this album is a total masterpiece; made all the better seeing as how I can play it loud and proud while I while the day away here in Corporate Hell. Definitely something I need to add to my growing vinyl collection.
Oh, and for the record, you can also check this album out for yourself HERE.