A Special EFX legacy of “Love” – review by Rick Scott

The contemporary jazz-world fusion band releases a collection of live recordings recorded in Hungary on the album “Return to Budapest with Love,” which is out now.

NEW YORK CITY (18 March 2024): Grammy nominated world jazz fusion group Special EFX has deep ties to Budapest as co-founder and master percussionist George Jinda was Hungarian as was his frequent songwriting partner Bela “Szakcsi” Lakatos. Along with the band’s co-founder and guitarist Chieli Minucci, the US-based Special EFX returned to Budapest to perform at the famed Petőfi Csarnok twice. Those 1990 and 1992 concerts were recorded by a local Hungarian radio station and are now available digitally and via CD from Chieli Music as the album “Return to Budapest with Love.”

When the concerts took place, there weren’t any plans to release a live album from the shows. In fact, Special EFX’s then label, GRP Records, felt that a live album would cut into sales of the crystalline digital CDs they were releasing at the time. Hungarian jazz fusion supergroup Djabe bandleader/guitarist Attila Egerhazi recently approached Minucci with the idea to release a live collection from the archived recordings.

“I decided it was long overdue to let our fans hear a live CD recording. Years earlier, we’d lobbied for a live concert release. At the last minute, our label declined, yet the artist in me just wanted to let folks hear what I heard every night on that stage. Well, all these years later, here it is!” enthused Minucci.

After listening to the two concerts, Minucci selected ten songs that he felt best captured the collaborative magic between him and Jinda, who passed away in 2002. In the spirit of Special EFX’s artistic direction, much of the music on the live album was improvised, particularly the duet pieces featuring Minucci and Jinda.

“This project, which I believe came from two-track to tape recordings, will give our fans a rare glimpse into the duo performances that George and I always included in our shows. Here there are many of them as well as full-band ensemble pieces,” said Minucci.

The full-band ensemble Minucci referenced consisted of him on electric and acoustic guitars, Jinda playing an array of multicultural percussion instruments (percussion, African talking drum, shakers, caxixi, tuned temple blocks, energy chime, crotales), Szakcsi on acoustic piano and keyboards, drummer Lionel Cordew and bassist Gerald Veasley.

Prior to the two Hungarian concert dates, Szakcsi had never performed with Special EFX although he had a lengthy history of writing with Jinda.

“A real treat for us was the inclusion of the famous jazz pianist and composer Bela ‘Szakcsi’ Lakatos who’d never actually performed our music before. Fans of the group will remember Szakcsi as co-composer of many earlier-period Special EFX compositions. With only a soundcheck to rehearse, the band performed for about 2,000 excited fans that evening,” said Minucci who reunited with Szakcsi for another Hungarian concert date five years ago prior to the keyboardist’s death in 2022.

“Return to Budapest with Love” opens with “Looking for Seventh Heaven,” a fiery Szakcsi and Jinda composition that Minucci describes as influenced by The Police and Sting. A rare live version of the 1986 album title track duo piece, “Slice of Life” contains a digital-delay loop effect that Minucci used quite often around the time of the live recording. The album contains the only existing version of the Minucci-Jinda duet “Forever,” an ethereal exploration piloted by Minucci’s frenetic guitar.

Minucci said that he and Szakcsi improvised the impassioned guitar and piano dalliance, “Chance Encounter,” “spontaneously in the middle of the concert. This is the only time Szakcsi and I ever played it.”

“The Toy Shop” is faithful to the studio recording of the track that Minucci describes as another meditative loop song. Named for someone Jinda knew, the fusion foray “Sabariah” was a concert favorite from Special EFX’s early touring days. The sprawling journey that is “Nature Boy Pt. 1 & 2” clocks in generously at more than ten minutes.

“A classic we played at all our shows, ‘Nature Boy’ beautifully demonstrates George’s talent on the African talking drum, not to mention my own Pete Townsend-influenced strumming. I still perform this as a solo piece at the end of Special EFX concerts,” said Minucci.

The brisk “Uptown East” was one of Special EFX’s first singles. At one of the Hungarian concerts, Special EFX hadn’t planned to play “Festival,” yet spontaneously Jinda and Minucci broke into the tune, and it made it onto the album. “Return to Budapest with Love” closes with the first composition the band ever recorded, “Sambuca Nights,” which was issued as their first single in 1982. The track displays Minucci’s fervent finger work on acoustic guitar.

Special EFX’s surviving member Minucci keeps the band’s 42-year legacy relevant and thriving via prodigious recording projects that are supported by busy concert itineraries, including treks with a revolving cast of special guests who join the guitarist under the name Special EFX All-Stars. A highly respected and in-demand guitarist known for his blazing speed, dexterous technique and meticulous detail, Minucci has performed or recorded with a plethora of pop, R&B, rock and jazz stars, the list of which includes Celine Dion, Lou Reed, Lionel Richie, Jennifer Lopez, Jewel, Marc Anthony, Michael Bolton, Eartha Kitt, Kirk Whalum, Maysa, Jeff Lorber, Norman Brown, Marion Meadows, Mindi Abair, Rick Braun and Omar Hakim. He’s also a three-time Emmy-winning composer who can be heard on films such as “No Country for Old Men,” “Bowfinger,” “Legally Blonde” and “Panic.” A longtime New York City resident who lives close to Broadway, Minucci’s whimsical theater work includes classic live productions of “Peter Pan,” “Dora the Explorer,” “Thomas the Tank Engine,” and others.

“Return to Budapest with Love” contains the following songs:

“Looking for Seventh Heaven”
“Slice of Life” – “Timeless Mood”
“Chance Encounter”
“The Toy Shop”
“Nature Boy Pt. 1 & 2”
“Uptown East”
“Sambuca Nights”

Rick Scott

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