Wednesday 22 January 2014

Hungarian Bright Sun's Fényes Nap from 1977, recorded in NYC

What an astonishing lost fusion album from behind the erstwhile iron curtain, now a ghost curtain of the past.  We know that these oppressed people mastered jazz and fusion and created some really outstanding works in both genres, but what makes this one unique is the importation of hungarian folk music-- like a fusionary Bartok.  The album is the brainchild of one Robert Cásel who recorded it in the summer of 1977 in New York City and released it as private pressing.  Of this man, whose photo is on the bottom of the back, there is little to no information further, though he must have poured his heart and soul into this release.  In overall tone, for comparison purposes, it reminds me a great deal of Thijs van Leer's masterpiece Oh My Love with its mix of gorgeous melodies, fusion, and highly progressive chord changes, and there's no doubt in my mind it should be as highly regarded.  (I use that record as a convenient point of reference because I love it so much.)  I hope that with this post some amount of that well-deserved fame might accrue to Robert and his creation: this album is simply brilliant.

Each song apparently is based on an old Hungarian folk song, and the lyrics for these are printed in English on one side and Hungarian on the other of the inner sleeve.  I'll go ahead and reprint some of these lyrics below as they really communicate the overall dark and melancholy tone of the record, aided by the gorgeously powerful voice of the singer who is Erzsebet Szalay.  These songs were always about suffering and death, we must remember how atrociously difficult times were in the old days when half the children died before the age of four (today even one child's death leads to a medical malpractice suit!) and people sold all they had for a meal during famines.  Folk songs were not just instructional narratives, but as one can imagine, the beauty of the music made the pain of life easier to bear.  I'm reminded of that gorgeous Beausoleil Broussard song about the mother singing a lullaby to her dying child, and the mother's song was the only happiness the child ever knew.
Also, note the persistent theme of daughters being married away by the parents.

A1. Little Bird

Little bird little bird do not stir the water
let me drink from it let me write a letter

To my father to my mother to my sweetheart betrothed
let them find out also who they wed me to

To a fancy soldier to a six-oxed farmer
to a six-oxed farmer to a mountain outlaw

I am sick and tired of getting up early morning
getting up early morning to the brook a-going

To the brook a-going bloody clothes a-washing
soaking it in tears bathing it with wails

So notice how, after starting very meditatively with the folk song with cymbals, as if in a sunrise, half way through Robert changes direction into a fusion riff on electric piano, with crazy drumming.  In each song the folk music is used as a springboard into lovely jazz or progressive meanderings, leading to constant variety throughout the record.  Notice also the arrangements, in this song for ex. you have a harp evoking the brook with arpeggios in the background towards the end.  As if that weren't enough for your ears to deal with in one track, the song closes out the last minute with a totally different melody (presumably another borrowed folk song) and tempo!  Simply astonishing.

A2.  The Bright Sun

Lo the bright sun has gone to rest
the earth remains in darkness
daylight's brightness changes to night
to the weary bringing rest

all creatures seek repose
slumber as decreed by God
but I oh lord go to my bed
though I would to my wrteched coffin

When I lay my body to bed
I may enclose my life between wooden slats
long sleep may touch my eyes
the cock's crow may bring my end

B2. In the Rakoci Inn

In the Rakoci Inn
wine is sold for 2 farthings
there arrives there arrives
a poor widow

Come in come in
poor widow
drink a pint of wine
or possibly two

Daughter my dear daughter
Katalina Bodor
I have sold you
at the Rakoci inn
to little lord of Rakoci

Mother my dear mother
who nursed me so kindly
why have you sold me to a murderer
to little lord of Rakoci
who sleeps throughout the day
and kills people at night

Mother my dear mother
who nursed me so kindly
what horde is that
black horde
coming from the east
going to the west

Daughter my dear daughter
Katalina Bodor
for you has come
that black horde

Good day good day

my precious betrothed
may god receive
the little lord of Rakoci

Then he picks her up
ties her to the horse's tail
from thicket to thicket
he carries her in the thorny bushes

Slow down slow down
my precious betrothed
for my golden wreath
is half flooded with blood

Then he jerks her up
presses her to his bosom
what would you eat 
what would you drink
my precious betrothed

I would neither eat nor drink
I only would lie in bed
I would neither eat nor drink
I only would lie in bed

Open mother open
your green door
make mother make
my gay deathbed

Devastasting.  Though it may appear almost silly to you to read this today, bear in mind that in pre-industrial times in Europe such occurrences were commonplace, and in fact, in the poorer developing countries today we still hear these stories of peasant parents who sell their children out of desperation, despite universal laws against the practice.  And moreover there are countries like possibly Afghanistan where the practice is semi institutionalized.

[A quick note about the spelling.  I transcribed the lyrics sheet as it was written:  i.e. Rakoci, vs. Rakoczi, but on the back of the record you will notice the alternate spelling.]

Clearly, Robert Casel was a musical genius, and it would be so wonderful to hear back from him, but even better, if this record were accorded the respect it so deserves.  Did he give up on progressive music after this record was ill received, I wonder?   If yes, this tragic fate of great artists has never seemed to me more unfair.


  1. Alright!
    And here I was thinking I was the only one who had this lp in the collection.

    Yes, recorded in New York, but the label says Magyar Records..
    I suppose this CAN be a US pressing and not Hungarian. In the same way that Check Republic's Plastic People Of Universe had a Canadian press of one of their titles on a distinctly Check-sounding label name.

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  3. I'm glad to know I'm not the only who has this record... you love it too?

  4. I´m in love with this, many thanks for upload Julian ... a real pearl !!!

  5. Real masterpiece !!!
    Mega thanks for the post,Julian.

  6. Hi,
    this is definitely NOT hungarian pressing. Mihály Ráduly was in the legendary hungarian band Syrius and played saxophone and flute on their Devil's Masquerade LP. In the 70s he won a scholarship to Boston (Berkeley School of Music) and didn't come back to Hungary. He actually lived in New York that time.

    For me, this is the post of the year so far. I'm a big fan of Syrius and Ráduly, but wasn't aware of this recording.

    Thanks a lot.

  7. That's really interesting information, Méhe. Thanks!

  8. A big THANKS for this Julian !!!

  9. Yes! after hearing the two tracks, I understand your enthusiasm. I'll give a try right now! Thank you!

  10. i am listening to it now. Beautiful.