Jazz violinist Jozef Nadj’s got his funk on. He’s moving, grooving, despite the fact that he’s still getting used to real time after a trip back home, his first home, to Central Europe. So he rolls out of bed at the ungoldly hour of 5 in the morning, still hobbling around the house, nursing a foot injury from a pick-up soccer game, which delayed his return stateside by almost a week, leaving him barely enough time to prepare for the first day of classes at The Musical Suite, where the Lynn resident has taught for three years. He puts on some Maceo Parker and shakes off the cobwebs. Not that the violinist, who brings his band, the Jozef Nadj Fusion System, to the Firehouse next week, is especially heavy into the funk thing. Fact is, Nadj, whose name rhymes with "lodge," could, and would, play pretty much anything, as long as he finds something intriguing at its core, some challenge, something interesting to latch onto, to explore, an attitude perfectly illustrated by the classically trained musician’s two current, competing projects: the first, a rock album of original music somewhere in the vicinity, musically, of his favorite bands from back in the day: Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica — itself a significant departure from JNFS’s 2009 debut, "Digital World," which finds him in the neighborhood of Jean Luc Ponty (natch) and Miles Davis (the fusion years). And then there’s the other project, an album of tunes by Charlie Parker. By a band that does not have a tenor player — any saxophone, in fact. Yeah, Bird, the guy who all but invented the instrument. A god in jazz circles. Untouchable, unapproachable. An album with violin as its main weapon, its ax of choice. Granted, a hopped-up violin. Electric, with all the gear, pedals. Which adds another layer of controversy for purists.
And the reaction so far?"
He laughs. "Most people are telling me that I'm crazy," he says. "I know I’m fooling around with fire. But, I mean, why not?"
He’s got six or seven arrangements, classics like "Ornithology," ready to go. He’s still weighing how deep to take it, how to approach the material, where to keep it clean, or how deep to drag it into the modern, full-on eclectic electric sound — "a major dilemma," he says.
He hopes to bring out both albums next year ..."if they don’t kill me first," he says. They being the jazz Pharisees, of course.
And he’s joking, of course.
He’s from Pancevo — Serbian-born, but with strong Hungarian roots. Comes from a musical family. Father plays tenor sax. Mother, piano. Brother, clarinet and alto sax. He attended Kodolanyi Janos Institute in Budapest and Academy of Music in Nis, Serbia. Studied classical music and would give the longhairs their due in the classroom, but, despite his training, or maybe because of it, Nadj had a different playlist when he was at home, listening to everything from Madonna to Dream Theater to John Coltrane and Miles Davis. "Sometimes I still do that," he says. In retrospect, Nadj says it was probably the jazz influence of his father, and in particular, Dexter Gordon, that "finished me off." Both Kodolanyi Janos Institute and Academy of Music were light in the contemporary music department, "so I had to look somewhere else." The scholarship gods were good to him, and he got a virtual free ride at Berklee in 2000.
Since graduating, he’s been doing session and studio work, here and abroad. He arranged the brass section on "The Deniue," the 2006 sophomore release by Serbian popsters VIS Scena. He and the Berklee String Quartet were featured on "Fly Away," a track on SG - Lad’s 2001 album "About Time." He also played with the Newton Symphony Orchestra on Mark Perrault’s Gershwinesque "The Testing LP" in 2001 and Scott Thomson’s "For Them Or Us." He still plays occasionally with Captain Wolf, a Lynn-based band populated by lots of Berklee alum. So does his wife, Margerita, also a violinist. He also wrote one tune, "Entering Home," for Wolf’s debut album, "Call of the Wolf," last year. He also plays in the RH Group, a mighty sextet of fellow fusion funksters from Central Europe. He’s played a couple of gigs locally, most notably with Doug Bell and Bellevue Cadillac.
But since 2008 he’s been focusing on the Jozef Nadj Sound System. The band features drummer Justin Oliver, whose recording credits include "5 Weeks," the theme song for the soap opera "Guiding Light," and performs with artists Soul Alley, Clockwork, Magdalen Hsu-Li and No Limit. Keyboardist Mike Koziel is a member of Glass Prison, a Dream Theater tribute band, and has worked with everybody from Chubby Checker to Dizzy Gillespie over the past two decades. Bassist Bill Drake has performed with Soul Machine, SRV Tribute Band and Emerson, Lake & Palmer Tribute band, among others. Guitarist Craig Hlady performs with jazz singer Didi Stewart, The Part Time Lovers and The Brian Kelly Band.
The Firehouse show will focus on the pot-boiling fusion of "Digital World," with its tricky charts and muscular solos. It’s an all-instrumental disc that serves up digital themes, from power on to power off. The only thing missing, seeing how this appears to be formulated in a Windows world, is a tune called "Blue Screen of Death" or "Thank God I Have the IT Geeks on Speeddial." But there will also be some surprises, if you don’t read any further, of course. Expect some rock fireworks. The band will do a couple of Hendrix covers. "Little Wing," "All Along the Watchtower," and "Voodoo Chile" are in JNFS’s repertoire. Hey, Gil Evans saw the jazz in Hendrix's blues-based rock psychedelia, built an orchestra to play it and got it down on vinyl on "Gil Evans Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix" in 1975. Nadj does, too. But he says nomenclature is nothing. "If it’s quality music, I’m into it," he says. "I’m not locked into any genre. If it's good and difficult, I'm in. If it’s good and interesting, I may be in. If it’s good and and easy, I just wouldn't bother."
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: The Jozef Nadj Fusion System performs at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Market Square, Newburyport. Tickets are $22, or $20 for students and seniors. For more information, check out the Firehouse web or Nadj's homepage, or call 978.462.7336.