Laszlo Gardony
Photo: Courtesy of Sunnyside Records

Laszlo Gardony Finds a New Way to Play Jazz in ‘Close Connection’

By combining progressive rock with Hungarian folk music on Close Connection, jazz pianist Laszlo Gardony finds yet a new way to play jazz.

Close Connection
Laszlo Gardony
2 December 2022

Hungarian jazz pianist Laszlo Gardony has ramped up his recording output lately, but his last two releases have been solo piano performances. He hasn’t released any recorded work with other musicians since the 2015 live album Life in Real Time. For Close Connection, Gardony reunites with his longtime rhythm section of bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel to record 12 new compositions that combine Hungarian folk music and progressive rock and squeezes them through a contemporary jazz filter.

If that sounds like a goofy combination to you, it’s not. Gardony grew up with a steady diet of all three and has been an active musician and educator long enough to know which musical combinations will work and which ones won’t. As the title implies, Close Connection is a blend that goes down easy – so easy that you may wonder why you didn’t think of the combination before.

Gardony has not been shy about his interest in Béla Bartók in the past, but the press release for Close Connection finds him also dropping band names like Soft Machine, Can, Atomic Rooster, Deep Purple, King Crimson, and ELP. Modern jazz and progressive rock don’t make for strange bedfellows, but the connection to folk forms from Eastern Europe is a bit of a further stretch. Again, Gardony’s background assures us he can handle it all superbly. Just how much of each new composition is jazz, progressive rock, or Hungarian folk is something that only Gardony can answer in detail.

For “Times of Discord”, the folk forms ring through the clearest with a repeating melody built on a very specific mode with more than a few flatted notes. In “Strong Minds”, the trio’s swampy approach to rock easily recalls something from the Bad Plus’ early career by using the piano to pound out power chords. For “Savanna Sunrise”, Gardony shifts to the melodica while Israel takes up the kalimba, giving the track an African flavor unlike anything else on Close Connection. It’s easy to draw a line from Bartók’s “Allegro Barbaro” to the shifting syncopation in “Cedar Tree Dance” while leaving enough room for it to develop a swing.

Even when the influences become harder to parse apart, Close Connection is still a highly satisfying work. “All That Remains” is a wonderful piece of free-floating collective improvisation, as is the lightly strutting “Everybody Needs a Home” and the ponderous closer “Cold Earth”. “Irrepressible” starts the album and nails the title perfectly with its striking chordal movement and the rhythm track that perfectly bolsters it. The breezy waltz “Sweet Thoughts” offsets the one-two punch of “Irrepressible” and “Strong Minds” with its disarming swing and comforting musical patterns.

No matter what Gardony’s angle is in any given bar of music, Close Connection is a very attractive piece of musical synthesis that all but begs for an eventual sequel of some sort. Only “Savanna Sunrise” doesn’t seem to fit, and that’s a mild quibble. Laszlo Gardony is a prime example of an artist who can push his medium forward without reinventing the wheel, a form of innovation that doesn’t garner nearly as much attention as those who strive for total paradigm shifts. An album like Close Connection is the kind that comes along every once in a while to remind us that you don’t have to do a complete clear-cut, that there can be a combination of two or more paths through these woods.

RATING 7 / 10