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Shapeshifting Jazz

Can we imagine today that we listen to a record from beginning to the end, and we focus exclusively on the music, so it does not become a background noise while we are ironing, hoovering or doing sports or while our phones and other gadgets are relentlessly chiming? Are there any songs that do not accommodate to our fast-paced lifestyles with their two-three minutes duration but provide an aesthetic and easy-flowing experience during their lengthier running time? The answer for the latter question is a hopeful yes; but fully immersing ourselves into music is just as much a curiosity nowadays as losing ourselves in a novel or in a poetry collection.

Some songs from Shapeshifter, the third record from the Veronika Harcsa-Bálint Gyémánt collaboration, can stand on their own, but for a more complex experience, we should take the time to listen to the record in its entirety, as the songs slowly build on one another, their harmony results in a symmetrical musical unity. The song cycle is bookended by two slow, liberating but still sombre ballads: Listen to Me Now and Bori’s Rebel. Veronika Harcsa wrote the music for both songs; however, the lyrics of the latter song was written by her younger sister about a point in life where we try to break free from the burden of our body or our psyche, getting rid of everything that previously weighed us down.

The simple but brilliant opening number, Listen to Me Now, one of the strongest compositions on the record, is supported by a music video. It was directed by the amateur photographer, Fruzsina Eszter Nagy who reflected the mood and the aethereal sounds of the song with unusual imagery.

The symmetry is continued with the second (San Francisco) and seventh (Shapeshifter) songs. Both tracks were written by Bálint Gyémánt, and they are the most dynamic, most intriguing, most melodic songs of the record. San Francisco is more captivating; it starts as a duet between Veronika’s singing and Bálint’s guitar licks, but, in the second half of the song, the rhythm section joins in, amplifying the positive vibes of this uplifting song. The two Belgian musician, the bassist Nicolas Thys and the drummer Antoine Pierre, enrich every song on the album with their musical prowess. By becoming a quartet, they created a fresh, colourful sound – the result is at the same time innovative and slightly nostalgic, as Veronika Harcsa started her career in a four-piece band.

Apart from Bori’s Rebel, all lyrics are written by Veronika, and in San Francisco, she concentrates on the wonders and challenges of the real world compared to the virtual reality of those glued to the screen of their iPhones, while in Shapeshifter, she explores the darker implications of this world through the eyes of a poor child.

Two heavier pieces make up the core of the record. On the one hand, there is a 15-minutes-long suite divided into three tracks (First Night, Second Night, Last Night) that incorporates experimental and psychedelic influences. Veronika Harcsa wanted to represent the diverse faces of a city at night-time, an environment where social solitude and the almost unbearable abundance of colours and sounds is maddening, but there is hope that there are stars above the purple-coloured clouds and rivers on the rain-soaked terrain, full of life – and it gives some sort of comfort for the city-dweller so lost among the artificial adventures and stimulations. The catharsis of the suite is an eerie chanting as if a head of a tribe would mourn over nature in this alienated, urbanised environment. Probably this suite inspired the cover art as well, where the two figures – Veronika and Bálint – sit around an empty white desk while in the background, images of big cities are projected upon one another. The shapeshifter “pair” of the white table is the empty, white globe on the back cover, made by Ádám Albert.

On the other hand, there is the almost nine minutes long, Serge Gainsbourg-influenced Serge with Holy Scar. The song, a psychedelic vision – reminiscent of the style of Veronika’s other band, Bin-Jip – is intensified by strong grooves and Bálint’s innovative, exceptional guitar solo.

The title for the third collaboration between Veronika Harcsa and Bálint Gyémánt is not only appropriate because of the musical shapeshifting into a quartet, but because this shapeshifting, this versatility is the essence of the album: the more accessible, more mainstream tracks balance and provide a framework for the more complex, more experimental musical numbers. These might require more profound listening, but also offer more creativity as well.

So silence our phones, and spend 45 minutes of our life on this musical adventure and enjoy the process how the sequence of the songs create an arc from getting into the mood and relaxing through opening up and immersion to facing our chaos and our demons to finally arrive at rebellion and release.

Veronika Harcsa – Bálint Gyémánt: Shapeshifter. Traumton Records, 2019