Alibi V.25 No.36 • Sept 8-14, 2016 

Aural Fixation

Zoltán’s Fortune

A new album and a cheese fest

Zoltán Székely
Zoltán Székely
Courtesy of the artist
Zoltán Székely has been writing and playing gypsy-flavored tunes for more than a decade in our little Southwest music community. As for the last name: Székely is a Transylvanian-born, Albuquerque-based musician who has also lived in Hungary and Toronto.

Interestingly, he shares his family name with comedian Louis C.K. who shortened Székely to a phonetic, two letter version of a difficult to pronounce family name. Zoltán, however, will likely remain mononymously named as the musician who previously led the prolific Albuquerque group Zoltán Orkestar.

While many musicians have taken inspiration from old Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli recordings, Székely was raised within the gypsy culture, listening to music that originally informed the Belgian-born Django. Those regional rhythms and traditional instruments are the sounds he hears in his head.

While many musicians have taken inspiration from old Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli recordings, Székely was raised within the gypsy culture, listening to music that originally informed the Belgian-born Django. Those regional rhythms and traditional instruments are the sounds he hears in his head.

The well received Zoltán Orkestar thrilled accordion and hot-jazz guitar fans for many years. His latest ensemble, The Fortune Tellers, features more accomplished Django-influenced guitar, beautiful upright bass and rhythms from another land, places where folks still use horses for work and occasionally sing lovingly about sausages and cheese.

This latest collection of tunes by Zoltán, Zoltán and the Fortune Tellers, has more than just the occasional culinary theme. It's fair to say that the recording focuses on two main subjects: women and food. In this latest work, it's important to add that Zoltán and company embrace these subjects in a family-friendly way but without sounding plain goofy. “The Cheese Song,” for example, is a result of Zoltán's confrontation with his kids' cheese-eating obssession, day in and day out, for an extended period of time.

Zoltan writes what he knows, telling Weekly Alibi, “I have food and a woman in my life. I usually write these songs early in the morning, I wake up at five and I either go back to sleep or have a song, especially lately. I get the ideas for the lyrics before I put the music and the melody to it. I get the lyrics worked out and that drives the music later on. I write all the songs, then show them to Terry Bluhm and Nick Baker—the bass player and drummer—and after a few performances we figure out what works best as far as the bass and drum parts.

It's a formula that provides for fun live performances that celebrate the good things in life, as well as a recording that represents a fairly unique sound in Albuquerque's music scene.

The Fortune Tellers recorded their new album at KUNM's Studio A. The process involved a lot of nice equipment being made available to the band, lending this recording a more grounded and professional sound than their previous 2014 release. That record was recorded—in solidarity with so many other notable weirdo recording artists like Jandek and Sebadoh—in a bedroom.

Comparing the two albums, Zoltán said, “The songs may have gotten a little more lighthearted, and I wrote everything on the new record in less than a year, with the exception of one I worked on with James Whiton, ‘Ballad of the Beauty Queen,’ that's an older song.” On that note, this piece, the only instrumental track on the new album, is one of the strongest tunes in this collection. Its melancholy combination of Zoltán's nylon string guitar finger-picking and James Whiton's string bass makes this particular CD worth picking up.

Also worth noting is the mucho talented accordion and piano work of Carlos Ruiz de la Torre—aka Carlosaur—on a couple of tracks, as well as the brilliant saxophone playing of his son Mateo, the youngest member of the ensemble at age 14.

Back to that food theme: Zoltán will be traveling to Wisconsin soon to play a very large cheese festival. That gig is a direct result of “The Cheese Song.” “They're going to bring me up and we'll do a two-piece with accordion player John Kieth, AKA Johnny Accordion. It's a town called Monroe, a little bit south of Madison ... the festival is called the Green County Cheese Days Festival. Should be a lot of fun.”

In all seriousness, being asked to play one of Wisconsin's premiere cheese festivals must surely portend that the sky's the limit for Zoltán; it certainly helps get word out on one of our town’s most accomplished players and composers.

Zoltán and The Fortune Tellers will be headlining the Off Center Folk Art Festival in Albuquerque on Sunday, Sept. 11. The festival happens from 10am-4pm at 808 Park Ave. SW.

Zoltán and the Fortune Tellers: “Street Named After Me”