Belsta River (1978)
Gabor Szabo

  1. 24 Carat (Gabor Szabo)
  2. Django (John Lewis)
  3. First Tune in the Morning [a.k.a. Lady Gabor] (Gabor Szabo)
  4. Stormy (Buddy Buie/James Cobb/Dennis Yost)

Gabor Szabo, Janne Schaffer – guitar
Wlodek Gulgowski – piano, electric piano, synthesizer
Pekka Pohjola – bass
Peter Sundell – drum
Malando Gassama – congas, percussion

Recorded January 6 and 7, 1978, at Europa Film Studio; Stockholm, Sweden.

Produced by Lars Samuelson
Engineered by Leif Allanson

Musical consultant: Menyus “Peter” Totth

1 to 4 issued on LP in 1978 as Four Leaf Clover FLC-5030

For Szabo’s second Swedish recording, only guitarist Janne Schaffer returned. Producer Lars Samuelson, a talent scout of eclectic tastes, cast the rest of the band with a variety of European musicians including Frank Zappa bassist (and, subsequently, classical composer) Pekka Pohjola.

Named for the Ballstaan River crossing through Sundbyberg, a suburb north of Stockholm where the recording was made (and pictured on the cover), BELSTA RIVER is an enjoyable, often engaging session with a pleasant back-to-basics feel.

Significantly, Belsta River does not wear the dated shackles of so much “jazz” made in 1978. While rife with the electronic instrumentation and (somewhat) danceable beats of its predecessor (Faces) and the final album which follows (Femme Fatale), there is an abundant sense of invention and interplay here lacking in Szabo’s American recordings at the time.

The long tunes allow for plenty of blowing and a refreshing opportunity for expression. The talent involved contributes directly to the musicality of the proceedings here rather than to the string and vocal contrivances that falsely decorate the other albums. And Samuelson’s production is crystal clear — a substantial sonic achievement over the more satisfying Small World. It is perhaps one of the cleanest ever provided to Szabo.

“24 Carat” starts as little more than a jam on a riff (partially borrowed from Tony Dumas’s “It Happens”), ignited by the bassist and chockful of vamps familiar to the guitarist. But it’s worth noting how much Szabo seems to feel at home here; craftily weaving a fabric of moods into a genuine musical frenzy. Gulgowski and Pohjola, spellbound and spellbinding, solo impressively.

Likewise, “First Tune In The Morning” adds a twist of dark funk (courtesy of Pohjola) to the mysterious Eastern influence of the earlier “Lady Gabor.” It is a mesmerizing concoction wherein Szabo, Schaffer and Gulgowski’s keyboards stir a lavish, infectious brew.

“Stormy,” presumably dated by 1978, gets a new reading here by Szabo (his first is on Gabor Szabo 1969) but pleasingly yields one of his finer, beautifully constructed song-like solos. Schaffer’s rockish solo follows; as much in its brief space a showpiece as a tribute to the leader who’s style he’d clearly assimilated.

Perhaps the most fascinating turn of all is the unusual guitar/bass dirge of “Django.” Jarring as much as an acid-trip elegy, it is Szabo’s second of three recorded versions of “Django” (the other two are from Szabo’s Hungarian recordings), John Lewis’s famous ode to guitarist Django Reinhardt. After several listens, “Django” impresses most in the way Gabor Szabo can make a hollowed-out body of wood and strings positively sing. A devilishly seductive piece.

Szabo is clearly at ease here; comfortable with his surroundings and seemingly satisfied with his support, even as he spins himself into worlds of his own. As a result, his playing is spirited, and, though too often reliant on pet licks, quite enjoyable. Gulgowski and Pohjola are outstanding additions and contribute notably here through a high level of musicianship and an apparent ability to easily slip into Szabo’s universe.

Belsta River was issued in its entirety on CD in early 2001 as part of the Gabor Szabo In Stockholm compilation.