Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Invierno Porteño - Kenny Drew, Jr.

This blog focuses on performance videos, people performing Piazzolla's music, with occasional exceptions. Today's featured video qualified for one of those exceptions because of the quality and nature of the music in the video. It is a solo piano performance of Invierno Porteño by pianist Kenny Drew, Jr. and it is the best solo piano performance of the piece I have heard. The slide show accompanying the video is interesting - the photos are appropriate and some attention has clearly been paid to the editing but it is the music which is so special.

The performance was recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1999. At the time this recording was made, Drew was performing in both the jazz and classical world which I believe shows in some of the decisions he made as he converted a piece written for a five piece nuevo tango ensemble into something for solo piano. It is still unmistakeably jazz - it shows in the chord flow and cadences - but it is highly structured, very well organized and respectful of Piazzolla's original. This is not casual jazz. The original includes some flashy piano parts. The few other higher level piano arrangements take those flashy parts and try to extend their feel through the piece. Drew's approach is entirely different - he leaves out the flashy parts, and creates his own interpretation of the whole work. He is very percussive in parts and flowing in others and there is plenty of flash there for those who need finger fireworks. Invierno Porteño was the last of the "Seasons" written by Piazzolla and the only one of his seasons which contains (at the end) a clear salute to Vivaldi. That Vivaldi-like ending has created so much cheesey, fake-baroque cuteness in others' arrangement that I almost dread for most versions to end. But to my everlasting gratefulness, Drew does not fall into that trap and provides an absolutely sublime end to the piece. To my ears, this is a world-class performance.

You can still purchase the album, 1999 Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which contains this performance. Kenny Drew, Jr. has many other recordings but only one other, Winter Flower, contains a Piazzolla connection - a piece composed by Drew titled Argentine Rhapsody for Astor Piazzolla. The CD is out of print but I have a used copy on the way to me to check it out. From his current website, I judge he is still actively performing with an upcoming appearance in Zurich and several scheduled in the Tampa, Florida area. I wonder if there is any Piazzolla in his current repertoire? If not, there should be

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To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

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