|Nikoletta Szőke - Golden Earrings
NIKI SZŐKE, virtually unknown at the time even in Hungary, astonished everyone by winning the Shure Jazz Voice World Competition at the 2005 Montreux International Jazz Festival. An incredibly talented improviser, a highly intelligent singer with a style of her own and stupendous timing, she is one of the few who’s become adored by audiences and fellow musicians alike. Although she had been born into one of the Hungarian Gipsy musical dynasties (her father is a noted cimbalom player), she didn’t start learning music until the age of 18. Her first teacher was vocalist Gábor Winand, the man rated as the most original jazz-singer in Europe by the critics of the influential French magazine, Jazzman. She also took classical singing lessons as the only jazz-oriented pupil of Júlia Bikfalvy who had coached the diva Andrea Rost to international stardom. Originally heading for a degree in English and Russian at Budapest University, after her first year, Niki Szőke had to make a choice between her studies and full-time jazz singing. Her decision may have been Academia’s loss but a colossal gain for the world of jazz. Now, at the age of 25, she is already the undisputed favourite of the cognoscenti on the Hungarian jazz scene.
This, her first album, is a good example of both of her brilliance and her penchant for rising to new challenges. The unusual format of voice, guitar and bass makes equal demands on the members of this outstanding trio, and Niki, who can and often does use her voice as a musical instrument, is – musically speaking – “one of the lads”. The “lads” come from the top echelon of the vibrant Hungarian jazz world. Guitarist SZABOLCS OLÁH started his studies as a classical violinist but was soon drawn into the orbit of jazz and switched to guitar at the age of 15. He was named best soloist seven years ago at the National Youth Jazz Festival and three years back he won first prize at the national competition for jazz arrangers. He is an immensely thoughtful and original player whose music with his own group could be described as post-cool. Niki’s husband, bassist JÓZSEF BARCZA HORVÁTH having also ’graduated’ from classical music to jazz is one of the most inventive exponents of his instrument in a country teeming with world-class bass players. Between 1995 and 1998 he was a member of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado. As a jazzman, he’s played with Kirk Lightsey, Benny Bailey, Tony Lakatos, Rick Margitza, Eric Truffaz, Jack DeJohnette, Ray Anderson and the list is far from complete. He handles his huge instrument with the consummate ease of guitar players and is, arguably, the most melodious bassist in Hungary.
As for the music on this album, it should speak volumes for itself. It’s sheer delight.
(producer and presenter of jazz programmes on the BBC World Service between 1968 and 1995, jazz critic of Gramofon magazine)