As far as I know, this is Szabo’s first incursion in jazz-rock/fusion territory and it was a fairly successful one, partly because he has some high-profile friend, such as Bobby Womack (yeah, I know) on rhythm guitar, Jim Keltner on drums and Falco on percussions. Don’t get me wrong: despite its 71 release date, High Contrast is definitely not a fiery energy-filled lava-hot jazz rock album spewing molten magma in your living room through the speakers, like Nucleus, Mahavishnu or Weather report could do. Nope, we’re more in the CTI-label brand of 70’s light-fusion that would eventually veer into the 80’s soft-jazz. Rest assured, there is a whole continent between HC and that jazzy muzak that bore us through the dreaded 80’s decade.
Don’t be discouraged by the opening aptly-titled Breezin’, which present a gentle soft-Latin-jazz with over-mixed string arrangements, as it’s indeed a light summer breeze that won’t ruffle your feathers, but will not awake you either. Of much greater interest is the steamy Amazon piece, which has a slight Santana reminiscence, if you overlook Carlos’ inimitable guitar sound’s absence. The 7-mins+ Fingers instrumental piece (like the whole album) takes the debate a few steps higher while retaining the steamy Santana feel, with Falco’s excellent conga work and Levine’s dynamic piano to rise the energies sky-high. Bu (high) contrast, the soft string-overloaded Azure Blue can simply not compete and appears rather tedious, even though Szabo’s guitar is flawless.
On the flipside, the 7-mins+ Communication opens fire right from the first Latino-flavoured notes reaching your eardrums and the Latin feast continues with the gentler If You Don’t Want. The closing almost-8mins I Remember When remains in the mid-tempo Latino genre, but tones down the energy, while retaining the quality of the previous tracks, if it wasn’t for the overly-present string arrangements at the end. Considering his previous works for Impulse and Indo-Jazz Fusion, HC is a surprising but pleasant change of direction, and hints at what his future albums will sound like in years to come, to culminate with 76’s Macho release.