b: March 8, 1936. d: February 26, 1982.
In the summer of 1974, Szabo returned to Budapest for the first time since the Communist uprising forced him away in 1956. Szabo made the two-and-a-half month trip with his wife, Alicia, and their nine-year-old son, Blaise. The guitarist was reunited with family members, met old friends and marveled at how little had changed.
During his stay, he participated in a roundtable discussion with students at the Conservatory of Music in Budapest, played with several groups in Budapest clubs and was filmed during a studio performance by Hungarian television for, Jazzpódium 74: Szabó Gábor (USA) Müsora, the first show completely devoted to jazz on Hungarian television (later issued on the limited-edition LP and CD Gabor Szabo In Budapest).
Upon his return to the United States, Szabo found his journey inspired a renewed awareness in his own Hungarian heritage. He sought to merge elements of both his acoustic and electric jazz with a return to his musical roots.
This awareness led to Szabo’s attempt to form an “orchestra” featuring his current quartet (with Richard Thompson, John Smith and Bob Morin) and former group members Louis Kabok (drums), Jimmy Stewart (guitar) and Mayuto [Mailto Correa] (percussion).
This group came to be known as the Perfect Circle, in honor of what Szabo considered the evolution in his music. While the group made several club appearances, it never crystallized the way Szabo had hoped. Subsequently, the Perfect Circle yielded no recordings either.
Szabo gamely participated in the filming of a documentary on his music and career. Filmed over the course of several months in late 1974 and early 1975 by Larry Bock, a film student at the University of Southern California, Rising caught Szabo (and his family) at home, during rehearsals and in performance at the famed Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California.
While the 30-minute film – which was never officially released, but can now be found on YouTube – contains many of Szabo’s insights into his music and documents his love for painting, it also contains interesting interviews with wife, Alicia, critic Leonard Feather, and pianist Richard Thompson.
Szabo recorded the Bob James production, Macho for CTI affiliate, Salvation Records in early 1975 with a small group of studio musicians on the West Coast. The record’s lack of success forced Szabo to part ways with CTI. Szabo remains one of the first of the very few jazz artists that did not benefit by the affiliation with CTI Records in the early seventies.
In 1976, Szabo began recording even more popular-oriented fare for Mercury Records. While his working quartet now included pianist George Cables and bassist Tony Dumas (recent émigrés of Freddie Hubbard’s group), Szabo recorded the blatantly commercial Nightflight, with a group of Philadelphia studio musicians led by the then in-demand disco hitman, Bunny Sigler.
The album, filled with dated disco trappings and melodramatic musical flourishes, did, however, yield the interesting “Concorde (Nightflight),” which quickly became a staple of Szabo’s repertoire. Szabo was also heard on two other Mercury releases that year, Charles Earland‘s peculiar The Great Pyramid and former Santana and Azteca percussionist Coke Escovedo’s disco crossover Comin’ At Ya.
The following year, Szabo and his wife Alicia separated (they divorced in 1978). She and their son, Blaise, moved back to Boston while the guitarist maintained his home in Hollywood.
Musically, he teamed with former Jazz Crusader Wayne Henderson to produce the more substantial recording, Faces. Henderson, like Bobby Womack before, capably framed Szabo in a complimentary environment, allowing the guitarist plenty of room for good playing.
Faces utilized Szabo’s current working band, Bobby Lyle (key), Marlon McClain (el-g), Nathaniel Phillips (b) and Bruce Carter (d) with a gaggle of studio musicians that light the Henderson universe (of which the small group is part of that posse).
The record also briefly reunited Szabo on record with guitarist Jimmy Stewart for “Estaté,” a song which radio station KKGO helped turn into a local hit in San Francisco during the summer of 1977.