Gabor Szabo's Solo on:

      Though I suppose the event passed essentially unnoticed, for me, the release of Gabor Szabo's "SPELLBINDER" on CD for the first time was a very joyous day! Recorded in 1966 by Impulse Records and Bob Thiele, the original LP features bassist Ron Carter; drummer Chico Hamilton; and percussionists Willie Bobo and Victor Pantoja. Gabor Szabo Spellbinder' For the Hungarian-born guitarist, this recording followed his very successful first release from the label, "GYPSY '66." During those years, I had become aware of Gabor's playing and his style through his work with the groups of Chico Hamilton and Charles Lloyd. At that time, it was MOST unusual to hear a guitarist in the jazz world using a 'folk' style steel-string acoustic guitar amplified. But, it was this very sound which gave Szabo his most unique style. As this recording is now well over 30 years old, I thought that I would share with you this transcription, which makes up the better part of the performance, in hopes that it will acquaint you with this most singular of guitarists. Some of you may actually be familiar with his work without even knowing it. Carlos Santana chose to tag-on Szabo's composition, "Gypsy Queen" to the end of his huge hit, "Black Magic Woman." But, it's hard to know just how many Santana fans were inspired to investigate Szabo's own recordings.
      It's a bit difficult to categorize just WHAT kind of composition "Spellbinder" is because, in my view, there really isn't a melody. If I didn't know any better, and I don't, it would be my guess that this piece was just a 'jam'...something perhaps to warm-up before the session actually began. It would also be my guess that Bob Thiele just instructed the engineer to simply 'roll the tape' and, what we now hear was the result. In the end, it is my feeling that what ends-up being so appealing about this track is that it is truly a triumph of creating a MOOD over having the more classic elements of melody and/or form and structure. For over one-minute, Hamilton, Bobo, and Pantoja establish a rhythmic attitude before Szabo and Ron Carter finally join in. From that point, it is simply an improvisation over a C7 harmonic feeling. For me, though I didn't realize it at the time, performances like this ended-up having a profound influence on the way I made music within the context of Eyewitness with Anthony Jackson, Steve Jordan, and Manolo Badrena. Music, which, at its best, was often times a triumph of 'mood' over specific musical 'substance.'Gabor Szabo'
      One element, characteristic of Szabo's playing, and seemingly an obvious 'gypsy' influence, was his usage of the open guitar strings, indicated on the transcription by a (°) above or below the note. Examples of this technique appear in bars: 1, 4-5, 18-19, 29-31, and 33-34. Because this improvisation is over a C7 chord, he employs his open E-string and G-string. These flavors and concepts of Gabor's truly influenced all those who heard him play.
      His style is an interesting blend of elements, but, unlike most 'jazz' musicians, there is VERY little chromaticism in his playing. Even during the most active passages of this solo, the lines remain very diatonic, sticking to the notes contained within the C Mixolydian mode(C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb). There are some moments that hint at elements of our blues language, but it hardly ever gets 'bluesy.' You will also hear that his phrasing can be very staccato, and his usage of short notes is very appealing.
      Gabor's phrases have a way of 'answering' one another and even reprising material previously stated. For example, the opening phrase of the piece, bars 1-8 seems to get another look during bars 21-25. This is all highlighted by the use of the open E-string, especially as it resonates against a 'Bb' or an 'A.' Notice how bars 25-28 are seemingly answered by bars 29-32, and how bars 41-48 give the impression that he's having a conversation with himself.
      It would be my hope that someday, and soon, "SPELLBINDER" will be released within the U.S. because I believe that if you have to have just one Gabor Szabo recording, THIS is the one!!!

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