Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Rough Guide to Tango Revival

Although chock-full of aching bandoneon melodies, wistful and anguished strings, the Rough Guide to Tango Revival is not a particularly rough-edged compilation – but it’s definitely a global one. Compiler Chris Moss is a former Buenos Aires resident and an enthusiastic fan of the classics but doesn’t have much use for (or seemingly much knowledge of) tango nuevo, therefore, no Avantango, let alone Federico Aubele. Most of the cuts here are instrumentals, three of them Astor Piazzolla covers; in addition to the Argentinians, the artists here hail from such unexpected places as Romania and Holland. Hardcore tango fans get plenty to sink their teeth into here (and dance to, with the exception of three numbers with uptight,mechanical drum machine rhythm): as a starting point for newcomers, it’s as good a place as any to start your journey into the heart of tango’s darkness, although you might first want to stream Radio Piazzolla.

Argentinians Selección Nacional De Tango (which translates roughly as “Tango Allstar Team”) bookend the album with a dynamic-laden, richly orchestrated version of the iconic 1917 composition La Comparsita (The Little Parade) and the even lusher, wilder abandon of their version of the Piazzolla classic Adios Nonino. Their countrymen Orquesta Color Tango De Roberto Alvarez also get two tracks here, Piqueteros (Protesters) surprisingly blithe in light of its subject matter, and – the aptly titled Quejumbroso (Querulous) – homage to legendary bandleader Osvaldo Pugliese – with the uneasy staccato of the bandoneon battling the lush strings behind it.

La Madrugada (Daybreak) by Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro, a cover of the Angel Maffia composition is delivered in raw, fiery fashion as befits an “orquestra tipica,” i.e. oldschool group. Hungarian group Quartett Escualo makes the connection between gypsy music and tango in the Piazzolla classic Fuga Y Misterio , guitar, bandoneon, piano and strings all shadowing each other, then morphing into a dreamy extended string passage. Dutch bandleader Carel Kraayenhof bravely tackles more Piazzolla – Libertango – and dexterously puts his own stamp on it, a marvelously echoey piano-and-percussion first verse (is that tap dancing?) giving way when the rest of the band comes swirling in. German combo 6 Australes contribute La Lujanera, setting a tongue-in-cheek hip-hop lyric over a noirish cabaret arrangement, its dramatic Weimar vibe evoking a Spanish-language Dresden Dolls. Argentinian ensemble La Camorra’s La Maroma is the most intense number here, a vividly noir evocation that builds menacing ambience with a somewhat explosively percussive staccato intensity And Romanian chanteuse Oana Catalina Chitu’s Zaraza benefits from vivid Balkan tinges, especially with the strings, enhancing the unease behind the warmth of her voice. The more modern stuff here (other than a woozily fun if totally out-of-place reggaeton track by Melingo) suffers from overproduction despite some clever manuevering: no matter how clever the composition, it’s no fun dancing to a drum machine if you know what a real milonga is like.

For those wanting more of a raw edge, it doesn’t get much more raw than the rustic, remastered bonus cd of legendary oldtime tanguero Carlos Gardel, old 78 RPM scratches and all. It’s just acoustic guitar and vocals, Gardel’s mannered vaudevillian delivery quite a contrast with the frequently sly humor of the lyrics.

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March 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Fernando Otero – Vital

Album title: understatement of the month. Argentinian composer/pianist Fernando Otero gets around: he frequently plays with Arturo O’Farrill’s latin jazz orchestra, has collaborated with Dave Grusin and Dave Valentin and was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet for a Carnegie Hall premiere. Vital, his latest album is a darkly austere collection of miniatures for strings and piano, spanning the worlds of neo-Romantic, cinematic soundscapes and jazz. Many of these pieces are absolutely haunting, even macabre: this stuff packs an emotional wallop. It may be only February, but this is a good bet to show up on a lot of “best of” lists at the end of the year.

The album starts out with three pieces for violin and piano: a creepy noir waltz with piano and gracefully pensive Nick Danielson violin that segues into a thoughtful conversation between the two instruments, building with considerable apprehension. Globalizacion takes the form of a rapidfire, shuffling chase sequence – is it us chasing Jeffrey Sachs and his band of robber barons, or are we on the run from them? Siderate starts out as an uneasy Satie-esque tone poem with Hector del Curto’s bandoneon out front, Luis Nacht’s tenor sax rising to a blaring, impatient crescendo before the whole thing winds down with macabre-tinged piano.

Violin takes centerstage on the warmly Romantic La Abundancia, something akin to Jenny Scheinman meets Beethoven. The following track reverts to uneasy mode, a brief warped boogie segueing into what’s billed here as a dance but is more of a chase scene. On Reforma Mental, tinkling noir piano leads into a matter-of-factly ominous tradeoff between bandoneon and strings; the aptly titled, six-minute La Casa Vacia, for piano and violin is raw and woundedly evocative. The album winds up with the atmospheric, nocturnal Noche Iluminada, lit up with long passages for bandoneon and violin and the suspensefully cinematic Fin de Revision with its “what’s up” piano theme that quickly gives way to darkness again. The album’s just out on World Village Music.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Federico Aubele – Amatoria

Buenos Aires-born songwriter/guitarist Federico Aubele’s going for a rico suave thing here, sort of like a downtempo Gipsy Kings. At a distance this may sound like generic latin lounge music – it’s kind of formulaic, but it’s a formula that works. This cd offers layers of acoustic and electric guitars with hushed lounge lizard vocals (in Spanish) over a trip-hop beat. Aubele could use a lyricist, and there are places where the drum machine becomes completely claustrophobia-inducing (the album is just out on the well-intentioned but sonically numbing Thievery Corporation’s label). Now for some good things about the cd. Aubele is an excellent, terse guitarist: there aren’t any wasted notes here. And the songs are pretty, most of them in moody minor keys. Plus, he’s dubwise. His reggae touches typically linger and reverberate in the background, lithe guitar accents cleverly and judiciously kicking in at unexpected moments.

Suena Mi Guitarra sways and bounces, trip-hop meets tango with a jangly reggae guitar feel. Te Quiero a Ti is upbeat and evocative of Mexican groups like the Reggae Cowboys. Del Ayer layers phased backward-masked guitars in the background; there’s also a duet with the unlikely choice of Miho Hatori from Cibo Matto, who quite surprisingly acquits herself so well that she really ought to have been given a turn out front. The most bizarre cut here – tropicalia is just full of them, isn’t it? – is the samba-inflected El Sabor with its layers of artificial, bubbling synth, early 80s ELO goes to Brazil. The cd ends with an acoustic guitar instrumental that offers more than a hint of a more stark, purist sensibility lurking here. Piazzolla it’s not, but it’s something you can put on at a party and nobody will complain – in fact, you’ll probably have people asking you who this is – and it’s a good late-night sleepytime cd.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Chango Spasiuk – Pynandi: los Descalzos

Last year it was chicha music from Peru, this year it’s chamame, hill country music from the north of Argentina that’s the latest style to be plundered from El Sur. As with Chicha Libre, Argentinian accordionist Chango Spasiuk, the guy doing the plundering here adds his own individual, intelligent touch to the style. Blending violin, guitar and sparse percussion in the background along with his squeezebox, the cd (whose title is regional slang for “country bumpkin”) is a mostly upbeat, rousingly rustic mix of originals offering an inspired update on a style little-known outside its own turf. Spasiuk is best-known as an intense live performer, projecting himself here as a strong yet tasteful ensemble player, letting the violin or the guitar carry most of the melody. 

 

The cd kicks off with a happy, upbeat dance, Terra Colorada and then the darkly beautiful, atmospheric tango-inflected El Camino, in 12/8 time, ending with spooky, distant violin washes against starkly incisive acoustic guitar. Spasiuk’s Suite Noreste is a sprightly theme and variations featuring a big violin cadenza. Track five, Senor O, with sparse, mournful accordion and then sparse, pensive guitar segues into a beautiful, sad waltz appropriately titled Tristeza. From there on it’s back to the happy stuff with Infancia (Childhood), violin playfully gliding in the background behind Spasiuk’s warm, predictably nostalgic chordal work.

 

The clouds return with another pretty waltz, Viejo Caballo Alazan, a vocal number, then the pace picks up again. The rest of the album alternates waltzes – Panambi (Mariposa), i.e. Butterfly being a highlight, building from a wrenchingly beautiful waltz with vocalese to a big crescendo and then back again – alongside simple, straight-up dance numbers. Spasiuk is a big star in Argentina, doing with this what Carlos Vives did with vallenato in Colombia. The style may not be well known yet, but this cd is accessible enough to gain a wide following with the gypsy music crowd or for that matter latin music fans in general. Be the first on your block to know what it is. Chango Spasiuk plays Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall on Mar 27 at 7:30 PM.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Piazzolla in New York?

Always a hotly debatable question. On Monday afternoon, there couldn’t have been anything better. Should anyone claim that Argentinan bandoneon player and bandleader Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) wasn’t one of the greatest composers of alltime, the trio of Thomas Piercy (clarinet), Masataka Odaka (upright bass) and Claudine Hickman (piano) reaffirmed that brilliantly throughout their afternoon performance at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Throughout his career, Piazzolla was torn between two worlds, classical and traditional Argentinian tango. While living in New York as a boy he took piano lessons and discovered the joys and pleasures of Bach; later, in the 1940s, having returned to Argentina and established himself as a player and songwriter, he ventured deeply into jazz, incorporating that as well into his own unique vision. Perhaps because he had one foot in what was then considered pop culture, and the other in the all-so-serious world of classical music, Piazzolla’s music is stormy, often downright anguished. Most of his greatest works are in dark minor keys replete with tense, riveting crescendos and all sorts of drama, the ominous, flamenco-inspired beat always driving it on. The trio of Piercy, Odaka and Hickman brought out all of this but also the sunnier, jazzier side of the great composer in what was essentially an impressively inclusive overview of Piazzolla’s career.

Because Piazzolla was such a genre-bender, his music has been arranged for all different types of configurations, from rock bands (notably Big Lazy) to full orchestra to fusion jazz. Piercy’s often mournful clarinet, flying over Hickman’s tasteful, understated piano and Odaka’s insistent, pulsing bass brought out every bit of melody in the program. Because Piazzolla liked a big, lush sound, playing his bandoneon – a German accordion – with a full orchestra roaring behind him, tunes were occasionally subsumed beneath lavish arrangements. The opposite was the case here. The trio ran through the angst-driven, somewhat death-obsessed Oblivion, the misnamed Tango del Diablo (which begins with a big eerie cadenza before quieting down and building very subtly), Le Grand Tango (a beautiful, overtly classical mini-suite from late in Piazzolla’s career) and one of Piazzolla’s most popular and catchy compositions, Solitude, with confidence and sensitivity to even minute emotional shifts. They closed the almost hourlong program with his 1960s composition, the darkly and somewhat modernistic Tango Six, the somewhat wistful, classically-inflected Angel’s Tango and finally the surprisingly optimistic, jazzy Invierno Porteno (Winter in Buenos Aires). The crowd – a mix of retirees and office workers on their lunch break – were spellbound. If Piercy’s planned upcoming recording of Piazzolla works is anything like this, it’ll be amazing.

April 3, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments