I would say that, in terms of the biggest picture, Gábor Szabó was underrated in his class of jazz guitarists. Whether this is because of his late entrance to the game in 1966 (for reference, Wes Montgomery solo debuted in ’60), his non-American nationality or some other reason, I don’t know. Regardless of his relative obscurity, he still managed to gain the respect of many seasoned guitarists like Carlos Santana with his hypnotic mix of cool jazz and Hungarian music, which generally fell under the label of “gypsy jazz” in the late 60’s.
Halfway through the 70’s, Szabó made the transition the transition that many jazzists did in the decade, like Herbie Hancock and Donald Byrd, to a much more jazz-funk oriented sound. Though albums like High Contrast and Rambler hinted this transition early on, Szabó debuted his new sound at its proudest with 1975’s Macho.
Unlike Hancock and Byrd however, this particular album wasn’t nearly as urban and gritty as something like Ethiopian Knights was. In fact, Macho displays a smoky, metropolitan funk that is more akin to the Japanese “city pop” movement that was occurring around the same time as this album’s release. What Szabó had that city pop didn’t though was his Hungarian heritage, which he proudly displays by opening the album with a groovy rendition of Franz Liszt’s classic ‘Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2’. This song, as well as much of the songs on the album, features healthy dosages of rhythmic syncopation (in both bass and drum sections) providing a backdrop to Szabó’s incredible guitar-work. The more bombastic tracks on this LP, like the aforementioned Liszt cover, ‘Transylvania Boogie’ and ‘Ziggidy Zag’ are tightly-knit spectacles of precision-made instrumentation, with every instrument laying out fill after fill all while loosely following together.
Raucous funk aside, Szabó also lets in a helping of smooth jazz with tracks like ‘Time’ and ‘Poetry Man’, to which Macho‘s slick production adds to in boatloads. Bass that would otherwise be slapping away like crazy instead turns into an instrument of atmosphere, illustriously creating the hypnotic vibrancy that people like Santana love in Szabó’s work.
Macho is an expertly-woven piece of work, making a brilliant impact with three minutes shy of a 40-minute performance. It is, perhaps, Szabó’s most proficient work to date, which is no small feat in itself.