Album Review: Àbáse –‘Awakening’: Stunning spiritual jazz and beyond from the prolific producer/instrumentalist.


The Breakdown

'Awakening' surfs further into the cross-currents of afrobeats, spiritual jazz, rap and electronics with an intention to move and thrill.
Oshu Records 8.9

It doesn’t seem that long since Hungarian keyboarding producer whizz Szabolcs Bognár was premiering his ambitious Àbáse project with the extensive, celebratory ‘Laroyê’. Released at the end of 2021, it was assembled from jams recorded in collaborators’ lounges and apartments during a lengthy musical sabbatical in Brazil. Stoked with Bognár’s unflappable positivity, ‘Laroyê’ somehow came together. What we got was an unrestrained document of inventive, alchemic fusion, forging all the powers of MPB, latin jazz, samba, hip hop and beyond into a distinctive, dynamic global beat statement. The Guardian was readily thrilled, Giles P rightly purred and Àbáse had begun very much on the good foot.

Now comes Bognár’s next instalment under the Àbáse banner ‘Awakening’, which if nothing else underlines his stamina and irrepressible creative drive. Released via Oshu Records, it’s another mammoth effort, clocking in at around the hour mark as it surfs further into the cross-currents of afrobeats, spiritual jazz, rap and electronics with an intention to move and thrill. It also sees Bognár recording with a core seven-piece band throughout and capturing the moments quickly over a four-day recording session. Àbáse, in keeping with its translation from Yoruba, was always conceived as a collaborative venture and this time Bognár explores what this means within the parameters of a tight, exuberant collective.

As a result ‘Awakening’ is an album that’s grounded around pivotal long form tracks. Minidaso (My Hope) shows the band in gloriously infectious afrobeat flow, similar to the crisp delivery that Dele Sosimi has brought to the form. So there’s a joyous focus on getting the details exactly right from the brisk percussive skitters to Eric Owusu’s snaking vocal syncopation. Revolving around a riff that just keeps on giving the track re-asserts the vital vibes that Àbáse laid down on ‘Laroyê’ . Orbit Sirius (Sunmo Mi Ee) similarly looks back to move forwards with its sultry latin undertones. A hint of Pascoal baked cosmic jazz rises through the song’s intro, the loose, improv chorale, the light beats and gently stroked keys, the brass flutters which bring on a shimmering wooze. Things then get shaken up with a shift to a ready-rolling, carnivalesque samba while a quirky sci-fi synth solo dances.

Elsewhere Bognár steers the Àbáse sound vessel in less familiar directions. The Sun Ra tribute Sun Is Away, featuring Arkestra members Cecil Brooks and Knoel Scott, glides with an unhurried self-belief, the tune finding its own direction as it trundles along. Bognár’s versatile piano flourishes as Ernő Hock’s double bass staccato joins the percussive pairing of Owusu and kit drummer Ziggy Zeitgeist to provide the tune’s backbone. Perhaps more innovative is Àbáse’s re-imagining of a traditional Hungarian folk song Gyászba Borult Isten Csillagvára (God’s Star Castle Has Fallen To Grief). Here the swooning Romany lilt of the melody is carefully respected in a piece that oozes with spiritual, Kahil El’Zabar funkiness and reaches dynamic highs similar to Polish jazzers EABS.

It’s remarkable that most of these cuts were first or second takes and appear on ‘Awakening’ with minimal overdubs or unnecessary smoothing. Bognár’s Àbáse buddies play with an uncanny awareness of each other’s contribution balanced with a unified feel for the septet soundscape. The fact that the band has international roots (Fanni Zahár, Ernő Hock and Andras Koroknay from Hungary, Ori Jacobson from Israel, Eric Owusu from Ghana and Ziggy Zeitgeist from Australia) but are currently all Berlin based probably helps. This group are giving voice to a fast emerging, close knit, new European scene.

Given such connectivity, ’Awakening’ emphasises the collective’s live sound through Bognár and co-producer Erik Beuer’s analogue preferences and uncluttered, catch-all mix. On the beautiful unfolding Bloom (Flora), the atmosphere is made more tactile by including the creaks of the piano keys and close breath of the flute lines while peppered through the rest of the tracks are the yelps and yeahs of the players pushing each other onwards. In other hands the ‘sound of the room is the sound you hear’ approach can be a limitation but here it is key to ‘Awakening’s fundamental energy.

This new Àbáse album is also held together by the themes which are close to Szabolcs Bognár. Whereas his previous work on ‘Laroyê’ documented a particular musical journey he made, ‘Awakening’ is more personal, a reflection on his transition into parenthood as well as his own spiritual awareness. That’s not to say things become overwrought or weighed down. What such underpinning deep emotions have inspired is an album which resonates on so many levels. From the heartfelt traditional swing of Home to the affirming Shango, where Twi chants meet innovative afro-jazz electronica, ‘Awakening’ has a real warming presence.

Get you copy of ‘Awakening‘ by Àbáse from your local record store or direct from Oshu Records HERE

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