Dreams (1968)
Gabor Szabo

  1. Galatea’s Guitar (Gabor Szabo)
  2. Half the Day is the Night (Gary McFarland)
  3. Song of Injured Love (Manuel DeFalla)
  4. The Fortune Teller (Gabor Szabo/Louis Kabok)
  5. Fire Dance (Manuel DeFalla)
  6. The Lady in the Moon (Gabor Szabo)
  7. Ferris Wheel (Donovan)
  8. Fire Dance [single edit]
  9. Ferris Wheel [single edit]

Gabor Szabo, Jim (Jimmy) Stewart – guitar
Gary McFarland – piano (01)
Lajos “Louis” Kabok – bass, arco bass (3, 6)  
Jim Keltner – drums  
Hal Gordon – percussion  
Tony Miranda, Ray Alonge, Brooks Tillotson – French horn (5, 7)
Julius Schacter – violin
George Ricci – cello

Arranged by Gary McFarland

Rhythm recorded on August 6, 7 and 9, 1968, at Western Recording Studios, Hollywood, California
Horns and strings recorded on August 22, 1968, at Gotham Recording Studios, New York City

Produced by Gary McFarland
Engineered by Andy Richardson (Hollywood) and Eddie Rice (New York City)
Liner notes by Bill Ardis. Quote: James Joyce

1 to 7 issued on LP in 1968 on Skye SK-7
8 and 9 issued on 45 as Skye 459
1 to 9 issued on LP and CD in 2020 as Ebalunga!!! EBL/003

“Handsomely produced”

Billboard

“[E]xceptionally well conceived and performed”

DownBeat

“[T]he depth of emotion in the musicianship on this record is something you just don’t hear much in modern music.”

Waxpoetics

“[H]e captured his reveries in time and bequeathed us an everlasting gift of true grace and beauty.”

Donal Dineen

The magnificent Dreams is the artistic apex in the brief but bold discography of guitarist Gabor Szabo (1936-82). Released in December 1968 on Skye Records, the label Szabo formed with fellow musicians Gary McFarland and Cal Tjader, Dreams is the tenth of some two dozen recordings the guitarist issued during his lifetime and, remarkably, the sixth Szabo album issued in 1968 alone. The album captures his by-now perfectly integrated working band with guitarist Jimmy Stewart and fellow Hungarian émigré Louis (Lajos) Kabok for only the fourth and final time on record. It also marks the third of five Szabo albums to feature arranger Gary McFarland’s considerable and most supple musical support.

Gifted with an unprecedented artistic freedom he’d not experienced before (or after), Szabo gives his all to Dreams, resulting in his most personal, cohesive and profoundly felt musical statement. “Gone are the distasteful flirtations with vocal groups, watered-down rock, and all the other dregs that sometimes were thrown like a cloak over his talent,” wrote Don DeMichael in DownBeat. “Here we have Szabo’s music without clutter.” Declaring his mission on the front cover with the punning quote from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (probably via Marshall McLuhan), Szabo recants his more controversial “jazz is dead” mantra for a call to musical globalization, where jazz shakes its way into other forms and none of us the wiser that this is something new. But Dreams is anything but a boring treatise in musical philosophy. It is perhaps the best presentation of the guitarist’s unique approach to the guitar, his innate understanding of how seamlessly jazz fuses with other significant musical styles and his genuine love of improvisation, musical interaction and communicative performance.

Dreams was recorded over three days in August 1968 at Western Studios in Hollywood, with McFarland’s sensitively restrained overdubs captured several weeks later in New York, and gathers an eclectic program of stirring group originals, European classics and a particularly elegant pop cover. Szabo’s quintet features Stewart on second guitar, Kabok on bass, Hal Gordon on discreet percussion and the legendary Jim Keltner on drums. McFarland adds subtle, near ethereal touches from a quintet formed by three French horns, violin and cello that never crowds, complicates or corrupts the music. Szabo, whose style the Saturday Review once memorably said “is a singular amalgam of Mississippi, Mersey, Madras, and Magyar, well marinated in Mediterranean chicken fat and garnished with marzipan,” is all that and more. Here, he weaves a spell so compelling and enchanting it mirrors the hypnotic, trance-like performances the guitarist so often delivered live. 

“Galatea’s Guitar” opens with a haunting “Django”-like intro (recalling the John Lewis tune Szabo often played in concert) that yields to a hypnotic, now iconic, drone created by the rhythm section and launches into what Waxpoetics called “the mesmerizing interplay” between the two guitarists. “Louis and Gabor had worked out the first part of the song,” said Stewart, “and then we each felt our way into the song. This was one of the first times Gary [McFarland] played on a recording with us. He is playing the piano background lick. We rehearsed the song a few times and then recorded it. Most generally there would be no more than two takes.” The bravura performance here later factored on the soundtrack to the Italian comedy Holy Tongue (2002) and the guitar-oriented score for The Kids Are All Right (2001), while the track was memorably sampled by Styles of Beyond for “Styles of Beyond (Style Warz),” DJ Mehdi for “You Know About Me,” Josh Martinez for “Rainy Day,” Technicolour for “Centrifuge” and Riddler for “Noir.”

Gary McFarland’s haunting “Half the Day is Night” – the sort of pun that plays off the Joyce quote – has the wisp of the composer’s typical melancholy that Szabo’s solo upends into eerie menace. It calls to mind a meeting of McFarland’s Eye of the Devil (1966) soundtrack and the Rosemary’s Baby lullaby “Sleep Safe and Warm.”

Turning to Spanish composer Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), Szabo and company select two pieces from the ballet and concert work El Amor Brujo, “Song of Injured Love” (third movement, a.k.a. “Song of Love’s Sorrow”) and “Fire Dance” (eighth movement, a.k.a. “Ritual Fire Dance”). Since Falla is not particularly well-known to jazz audiences – though “Will o’ the Wisp,” El Amor Brujo’s tenth movement, was famously covered in 1960 by Miles Davis and Gil Evans – Szabo bravely ventures where very few others have dared to go. But perhaps it was no coincidence after all; “brujo” is Spanish for “wizard” or “sorcerer,” words often applied to the guitarist himself at the time.

Szabo delivers a perfectly contemplative ode to amour douloureux on “Song of Injured Love” and an enchantingly ruminative “Fire Dance,” its tricky melody (too often delivered at comically ridiculous tempos) utterly devoid of corn or cliché.  The astutely arranged “Song of Injured Love,” offers a lovely Szabo solo critic Don DeMichael compared to “a slowly opening flower” while “Fire Dance” recalls nothing if not the Szabo of “Spellbinder” and “Gypsy Queen” from a few years before. It is perhaps for this reason that “Fire Dance” was chosen as the album’s sole single: a familiar tune getting the Gabor Szabo treatment. Unfortunately, the single received hardly any airplay and subsequently failed to chart. Had “Fire Dance” been released only 18 months later, after Santana’s hit cover of “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen,” there’s a better chance the single would have found a receptive audience. (To be fair, both “Fire Dance” and “Galatea’s Guitar” appeard on the 1970 compilation Blowin’ Some Old Smoke, but few bothered to dig through this cheap quickie to look for the buried treasures hidden within.)

“The Fortune Teller” delves into its Hungarian composers’ Gypsy roots, ideally essaying the mutability of European folk music with American jazz that positively swings. Of course, both kinds of music were originally meant for dancing and this East(ern European) meets West groove-fest sparkles in a “fire dance” all its own.

The ethereal “The Lady in the Moon” is based on the Hungarian folk song “Tiszán innen, Dunán túl” from the 1926 opera Háry János by Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) and while not as celebrated among Szabo’s most notable works the way, say, “Gypsy Queen” or “Breezin’” are, it certainly should be. For one thing, this “Lady” provides evidence of one of Szabo’s least-acknowledged talents: his innate and uncanny ability to tell a compelling story through song, with a beginning, a middle (or two) and a highly climactic end. This quality exists in nearly all his improvisations, but it’s most evident in a composition such as this – likely worked out with the band in the studio. Additionally, the playing by all concerned shows how tight and right this group was, but the solos Szabo and Stewart deliver reward repeat listening (Kodály’s original was also structured as a duet). “The Lady in the Moon” was surprisingly – and masterfully – sampled in 1998 by Elzhi for “Someone as Real as Her.” The song’s title, incidentally, likely derives from Aubrey Beardsley’s 1894 print The Woman in the Moon from Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. Indeed, Beardsley’s work informs and inspires designer David Stahlberg’s evocative and memorable design for the Dreams cover (Stahlberg would win a Grammy Award in 1969 for his outstanding design for Gary McFarland’s America the Beautiful).

Saving the best for last, Donovan’s poetic and moving “Ferris Wheel” marks the pinnacle of Gabor Szabo’s musical synergy with the greatly under-appreciated journeyman Jimmy Stewart. Only the previous “The Lady in the Moon” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” from Szabo’s live album More Sorcery (Impulse, 1968), what Ron Hart in a 2018 Billboard article called “a near ten-minute instrumental explosion,” give “Ferris Wheel” a run for its amazing collaborative chemistry. The beguiling “Ferris Wheel” is the third track covered by Szabo that originally appeared on Donovan’s 1966 classic Sunshine Superman. (Szabo also references “Trans-Love Airways” from the Sunshine Superman track “The Fat Angel” on his cover of Eric Burdon and The Animals’ “San Franciscan Nights.”) Szabo and Stewart’s solos raise goose bumps and McFarland’s string and horn punctations could not be more perfectly realized. “We actually played first to knock each other out,” said Stewart of these occasions, “then we went for the audience. We wanted to take them on a trip – feel us.” Like Wes Montgomery’s “A Day in the Life,” “Ferris Wheel” represents one of the period’s finest fusions of melodic pop and improvisational jazz and pointed a positive direction such music could take…but, for whatever reason, really never did.

For all its ambition, Dreams was critically well-received yet failed to find an audience. Perhaps its fusion was too experimental for the time. Maybe Szabo’s follow-up collection of AM-radio hits, 1969 (the sort of if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em formula many jazz artists were forced into at the time), was more what listeners expected from jazz crossovers. And possibly there was just too much Gabor Szabo product out there, and the creative and artistic Dreams was lost or ignored among the guitarist’s otherwise commercial glut.

Szabo’s personal problems helped secure the dissolution of the quintet only months after Dreams was released; therefore, the band was unable to support the record on the road. Likewise, Skye Recordings, which never had much of a budget for advertising, was beginning to experience troubles of its own; Gary McFarland’s America the Beautiful, released a few months after Dreams, was Skye’s only real hit, but it wasn’t enough to save the company. Skye soldiered on for another year before getting folded into Buddah Records, and, despite several LP reissues, Dreams wound up milling about in forgotten obscurity. That is until the mid-Nineties, when a whole new generation of listeners discovered the album on CD. Since then, it has enjoyed a renewed reputation and many more appreciative listeners than Gabor Szabo could have hoped for in the late Sixties.

But it was the digital age and the advent of music sampling that has seen such high-profile pop stars like Mocean Worker (“Tres Tres Chic” sampling “Flea Market”), Madonna (“Mer Girl” sampling “Space”) and John Legend (“Save Room” sampling “Stormy”) bringing Gabor Szabo’s music to yet another generation of listeners, finally fulfilling the guitarist’s Dreams visionwhere “the west shall shake the east awake…while ye have the night for morn.”

Douglas Payne
September 2019

Original Notes

“The west shall shake the east awake…
while ye have the night for morn…”

James Joyce

The revolution is going well – or poorly, depending on your viewpoint. Anyone who refuses to admit that there is a revolution, though, soaks his psyche in linseed oil and dozes during the 11:00 p.m. news. Those who burned incense before the glass fishbowl during “Peyton Place Visits Chicago, 1968” (script by R. Daley) witnessed the symptoms of growing disaffection among our citizens for the prospect of $125/week and all the fringe you can eat. It may be that our priorities are confused, that we should focus on starvation and injustice within our boundaries before making more rubbish deposits on the moon. Or perhaps that the planned obsolescence of Viet Nam is moving a bit more quickly than we originally intended.

Sources close to both parties say that God is more confused about that’s happening than Marshall McLuhan, who is at least offering explanations, however cobwebby. God, rumor has it, has opted to a brief (perhaps) hiatus in Acapulco and more than one of us have considered joining him.

Yet the ritual which involves us proves too engaging; to abandon the struggle is to abandon the human race, and that is unthinkable. Our technology has tossed us together, a giant Caesar’s salad, and overnight we must learn to live with Australians, Indians, and Lebanese. And, paradoxically, we had better see America first if we intend to see it all.

The beauty of Gabor is that he speaks fluently of that unity which we seek. Listen, closely now, with the ear of your soul, and let him speak to you. He is saying that the inner probe is worth the effort, and more: that it is necessary if we are to survive. He is saying: extend your hand and touch the soul of another, for he is your brother. He is saying: balance your quest for externals with the quest for inner tranquility, or your soul will wither.

Under Gabor’s fingertips, the east is awakening and the spiritual revolution is taking root and seeding, like a hardy desert flower in a land of sand. For those who have ears to hear all that is possible, the potentials are infinite.

Be at peace, now, and hear Gabor…

Bill Ardis
“Ardis Against the Night”

Bill Ardis (b. 1940) was an all-night DJ in the late sixties, hosting Ardis Against the Night on WHAM radio in Rochester, New York. His post-DJ career has included technical writing, grant writing, marketing writing and voice work. As of this writing, he can be found on ardisradio.net, with writings and ruminations that are as lively and relevant as the notes he supplied to Dreams.