Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 5/12/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #628:

Astor Piazzolla – Hommage a Liege

In putting this list together, we’ve tried to limit the number of albums per artist to one or two. Which with Astor Piazzolla is just plain absurd: there must be at least a dozen, maybe several dozen of his recordings that belong among the 1000 best albums ever made. Did the iconic Argentinian composer, bandleader, bandoneon player and inventor of tango nuevo put out one that stands over the rest? Frankly, no – they’re pretty much all good. We picked this dark, richly lush 1985 live album because A) Piazzolla plays on it and B) even though it doesn’t have any of his signature songs, like Libertango, it represents him well. Backed by two guitarists plus the Liege Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leo Brouwer, this is Piazzolla the classical composer rather than Piazzolla the pop tunesmith (he was both, and preferred to think of himself as the former). It’s two suites: first the epic triptych Concerto para Bandoneon y Guitarra (Intro, Milonga and Tango), then the four-part Histoire du Tango (does anybody besides us think it’s funny that the concerto is Spanish but the history is French?). This one is a musical portrait of how the style developed (with major contributions by the composer himself), from the whorehouse in 1900, to the Cafe 1930, Nightclub 1960 and Aujourd’hui (Today). If Piazzolla is new to you, get to know him via Piazzolla Radio streaming 24/7. Here’s a random torrent via musicaparalacabeza.

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May 12, 2011 Posted by | classical music, lists, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Thomas Piercy and Vilian Ivantchev’s Cafe Album

A collection of brilliant segues. For a casual listener, this is the perfect rainy day album, pleasantly pensive with a balance of melancholy and more upbeat material, especially toward the end. For more adventurous fans, it’s a smartly innovative concept that works all the way through. Clarinetist Thomas Piercy and acoustic guitarist Vilian Ivantchev link fourteen pieces together as a suite, beginning with the French late Romantics, taking a detour into the German baroque before following the gypsy path to Brazil and from there to Argentina, where the trail ends on a note that threatens to jump out of its shoes with joy. It’s a very subtly fun ride.

Having worked with both Leonard Bernstein and KRS-One, Piercy is diversely talented. He’s as strong in his upper register, with a buoyant, flute-like presence on Telemann’s A Minor Sonata, or soaring with bandoneon textures on the Piazzolla pieces here that close the album, as he is mining the darker sonorities of Bartok’s Roumanian Folk Dances suite, or Erik Satie’s Gnossienne or Gymnopedie No. 1. Ivantchev displays almost superhuman discipline, restraining himself to terse, rock-solid chordal work or precise arpeggios, with the exception of the Piazzolla where he gets to cut loose a little more – but not much. Ultimately, this album is all about connections, and the duo make them everywhere. Debussy’s Le Fille aux Cheveux de Lin (The Blonde Girl) follows so seamlessly out of Satie that it could practically be the same piece. Likewise, following the last of Bartok’s gypsy dance transcriptions with Villa-Lobos’ Modinha is so logical that it’s almost funny when you think about it. The duo close the album with two brief arrangements of songs by vintage Argentinan tanguero Carlos Gardel (Mi Manita Pampa and Sus Ojos Se Cerraron) into a stripped-down yet melodically rich version of Piazzolla’s four-part suite Histoire du Tango and then, seemingly as an encore, Jacinto Chiclana which ends the album on a note equally balmy and bracing. Piercy’s viscerally intuitive feel for the tension-and-release of tango lets the guitar hold things together this time, giving him a chance to launch into some quiet rejoicing. Piercy plays the cd release show for this album at Caffe Vivaldi on June 19 at 8:15 PM with his trio: live, they are considerably more boisterous.

June 15, 2010 Posted by | classical music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

Concert Review: The Fourth Annual Main Squeeze Accordion Festival

Forget All Points West or Lolapalooza if it should ever get here again: diehard fans with sufficient stamina (and water supply- it was overcast but pretty hot most of the day over by the river) to hang in through all seven acts on the bill at Pier One on the Hudson were treated to what might be the year’s best single-day outdoor New York music festival. Considering how much of a comeback the small but mighty accordion has made over the years here in the US, there was a sense of defiance and triumph in the air.

The opening act, Musette Explosion is a tremendously good side project from accordionist Will Holshouser and guitarist Matt Munisteri – they do this gig a few times a year when there’s time, and given how much fun everybody onstage was having, it’s something of a surprise they don’t do it more often. Backed by bass saxophonist Scott Robinson, they ran through an alternately haunting and bouncy mix of swing-inflected French and Belgian instrumentals from mostly the 1930s and 40s. The highlight of the set, as usual, was Jo Privat’s eerie La Sorciere (The Witch), Munisteri weaving his way into a ferocious tremolo-picked solo on banjo. A Holshouser original, Chanson Pop built to a lushly plaintive, unaffectedly dramatic Baroque-inflected anthem. This group usually plays with a tuba, but Robinson made a great fit: blazing solos aren’t something you expect from a bass sax, but this guy delivered, particularly on the opening number, Gus Viseur’s swaying Swing Valse.

Mexican norteno band Suspenso del Norte were next, seemingly a project of the Javier family of Queens: father Pablo on guitar and lead vocals with his twelve-year-old son on button accordion along with a second guitar and rhythm section. What they play is essentially Mexican country music, with the same kind of swinging backbeat as what used to come out of Nashville before it became the hometown of lame pop-rock about fifteen years ago. Mixing popular hits along with originals, they connected with the small expat contingent who’d come out to see them, the powerfully built young accordionist supplying effortlessly fast, soulfully bubbling leads.

Hector Del Curto’s Eternal Tango Quintet took the dance vibe into intense, wrenchingly passionate territory. With Del Curto on bandoneon, Gustavo Casenave on piano, Pedro Giraudo on upright bass along with an inspired cellist and violinist, they mixed originals and classics, from a stately, haunting version of the traditional Argentinian tango El Choclo to a fast yet lush take of the Piazzolla classic Libertango. Another Piazzolla composition, Michaelangelo #17 bristled with stormy bandoneon and string flourishes; an original, Emancipacion built suspense with a martial beat and some vivid interplay between piano and bandoneon, a device that Del Curto employed very effectively and evocatively through the set’s brooding ebbs and aching swells.

The Main Squeeze Orchestra were next: being the pet project of Walter Kuhr, proprietor of the Main Squeeze accordion center on Essex St., this is an annual event for the all-female twelve-accordion group. It was a characteristically playful, tongue-in-cheek yet also virtuosic and fascinatingly arranged performance. They got the schlock out of the way first – no matter how much you polish a turd, there’s not much you can do with the Eurythmics or Michael Jackson. “This is a happy song about love,” announced one of the women, taking a turn on vocals on an oompah version of the Joy Division classic Love Will Tear Us Apart. They reinvented Misirlou as a tango and Hava Nagila as a hora, seguing into a happy, upbeat wedding dance. The Kinks’ Demon Alcohol was as amusingly over-the-top as usual; they closed with their deliciously deadpan, full-length version of Bohemian Rhapsody. Maybe if we get lucky they’ll do Freebird next year.

Italian composer/accordionist Roberto Cassan and classical guitarist John Muratore followed with a fascinating, cutting-edge program that spanned from a couple of swinging yet pensive Piazzolla compositions originally written for guitar and flute, to a darkly expansive instrumental by a contemporary Cuban composer, two rousing Italian tarantellas and a long opening number with echoes of both Celtic music and bluesy Hot Tuna-style improvisation.

The big hit of the festival was Liony Parra y la Mega Mafia Tipica, who absolutely slayed with a wildly danceable set of merengue. Parra delivered lightning-fast rivulets on his button accordion, sometimes trading off with the band’s excellent sax player, who matched him note for note on some pretty crazy trills. Along with a harmony singer,  they had a rhythm section including congas, cajon and bass drum along with a five-string bassist who stole the show, punching in booming chords to bring a phrase to a crescendo, adding eerie atonal accents, liquid arpeggios and even some laid-back, unpretentious two-handed tapping when things got really sick. They took their time working in with a long intro, just accordion and the drums, then the bass hit a tritone and they went flying. La Mega Mafia Tipica’s merengue is party music, first and foremost: they don’t sing much except on the choruses. This set had a bunch of deliriously hypnotic two-chord jams, bass behind the beat for a fat, seductive groove. They’d shake up the rhythm in places, accordion and sometimes the bass playing three on four for an extended vamp. The last song of the set had a trick ending that took pretty much everybody by surprise: of all the bands on the schedule, only la Mega Mafia Tipica got an encore because nobody wanted the party to stop.

That Slavic Soul Party accordionist Peter Stan and his four-piece backing band weren’t anticlimactic speaks for itself. Stan is something of the Balkan Rick Wakeman, blessed with unearthly speed and fond of playing a lot of notes. This time out he had his son Peter Jr. on chromatic button accordion, playing much like his dad, along with violin, synthesizer usually supplying the basslines and somewhat minimalist drums. By now, it was late, the rain was picking up and everybody except the growing line of dancers in front of the stage seemed pretty exhausted. But it was impossible to leave. Stan plays the kind of modern Balkan dance music you hear at Mehanata, a slick feel made slicker by the artificial bass sound of the synth. But the tunes are relentless and often haunting. He soloed his way from country to country, from Romanian gypsy to klezmer. The band mixed it up, from the happy, upbeat Serbian pop song Nishka Banya to the stately, sweepingly ornate original instrumental Gypsy Soul Fantasy to several edgy dance numbers sung by guest vocalist Bato the Yugo. It was an appropriately bracing way to wind up the evening. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates by all these bands.

July 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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