MANDOKI SOULMATES – Living In The Gap + Hungarian Pictures

Red Rock 2019

Living in the Gap +
Hungarian Pictures

Delivering a paean to togetherness, cosmopolitan defector calls on stellar comrades to close ranks and create celestial noise.

Leslie Mándoki has always been going against the grain – ever since he fled Budapest in mid-’70s to end up in Munich to live the dream of music – and in our era of Internet, when everyone plays on everyone’s records via file-sharing and throwing true human links out the window, the veteran created an international artistic community by not only inviting stars into his studio but also by actually taking then en mass onto the stage. Such an approach brought forth, in the span of three decades, ten albums until a ten-year period of purely live experience produced this wonderful twofer whose halves defy the divisive mode all the world would adapt to prevent the spread of pandemic. Hence the gap and the global village the project’s definitive effort focuses on.

Perceived as a primary panorama of this sonic landscape – as opposed to a personal perspective of its companion disc – “Living In The Gap” opens with the title track, an organ-oiled funky piece which Bobby Kimball’s pipes pass to other vocalists to take part in a paranoid sort of fun and to soloists to roll around, yet it’s the brace of “Young Rebels” and Chris Thompson-fronted “Old Rebels” that, sharing a mellow tune, set a concept tone to the entire album. After a couple of spins, other ties become obvious too, to connect the outing’s two chapters, “Hungarian Pictures” offering “Sessions In The Village” as a pseudo-parochial counterpoint to the thematic globality and binding “Utopia For Realists” to “Welcome To Real Life” – and if the latter errs towards power pop, the number’s memorable chorus is one of the record’s finest moments, John Helliwell and Bill Evans’ saxes giving the cut a sweet swirl, the finale of “I’m Not Your Enemy” – delivered by Leslie’s daughter Julia – has a prominent jazz flavor.

There’s a few lighthearted cuts – such as “Wake Up” where Randy Brecker’s fiery flugelhorn shines – to elevate the record’s sociopolitical agenda. But the unbearably optimistic “Mother Europe” and “Let The Music Show You The Way” find Jack Bruce and Ian Anderson trade cautious lines, their respective instruments, supple bass and fluttering flute, driving the songs’ infectious fragility to understated bliss and anthemic uplift, before Mike Stern’s acidic six strings tear Al Di Meola’s translucent lace on “Too Much Pride” to bits – all peppered with Mándoki’s percussion. Evoking the sprawl of Western prairies and harking back to Carpathian plains, Leslie’s voice turns the airy “Turn The Wind” into a down-to-earth ballad, bolstered with autobiographical detail, while Peter Maffay’s velvet voice echoes this simple vastness in “Where We Belong”… and it’s this simple vastness that’s the core of “Pictures”: the album’s most impressive component.

Devised by Leslie with the late Greg Lake and Jon Lord, it may appear after DIALETO’s "Bartók in Rock" – prog’s first full-length foray into the legacy of the greatest Hungarian composer this side of Liszt – yet SOULMATES refract the classics’ melodious landscapes through their own lens, developing familiar motifs and supplying occasional lyrics. As Cory Henry’s ivories and Edvin Marton’s violin lead the listener beyond the pale of puszta, the ensemble paint a series of riveting, improv-minded images which embody the spirit of freedom, and the mighty groove from Steve Bailey and Simon Phillips anchor the orchestral vista of “Transylvanian Dances” – the suite’s epic center – for the folksy beauty to unfold and reveal many a nuance hidden in more condensed performances.

With anguished nostalgia oozing out of “You’ll Find Me In Your Mirror” to rid the flow of electric charge, and the current accumulating for “Barbaro” to swing wildly, it’s down to Tony Carey and Nick Van Eede who join Mándoki on “The Torch” to lighten the mood again, so the singers implore, “Stay hungry, foolish, play along” – and that’s what this project is about. That’s what keeps us together and makes the world go round. A glorious thing.


August 17, 2020

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