Wednesday, August 18, 2010

St. Louis en l'Ile - Akoz Duo

Today's video provides a rare opportunity to hear the obscure Piazzolla composition, St. Louis en l'Ile. The piece is performed by Julie Salamagnou (viola) and Olivier Babaz (contrabass), both currently residents of Montreal, Canada, who together are known as the Akoz Duo.

St. Louis en l'Ile is a potentially important piece of music. It was composed, probably in 1955, while Piazzolla was studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Its importance lies in the seeds it contains of the next twenty-five years of his composing. No other work from this period contains more of the musical gestures, the phrases, the rhythmic patterns that are familiar to students of Piazzolla's music. It very clearly presages the nuevo tango for which he was to become famous. It deserves not only some scholarly attention but also much broader interpretation by those performing the music of Piazzolla.

Piazzolla never recorded St. Louis en l'Ile but the composition somehow survived and was published in a collection of piano/accordion arrangements of Piazzolla's early music. I believe it was first recorded, on accordion, in 1996 in the Sono Punch album, Astor Piazzolla - Hommage. It has been recorded several times since then, most notably by French singer, Brigitte Fontaine, as the title track on her CD, Rue Saint Louis en l'Île, with the Gotan Project providing the instrumental accompaniment. Of the versions of St. Louis en l'Ile that I have heard, the one in today's video by the Akoz Duo is the most satisfying. Their style, which combines classical and jazz in much the same way as did Piazzolla's, opened my ears to the strong nuevo tango roots in the piece. I hope others will note this and that someday soon, we will have a Piazzolla style quintet record the piece. Until that day arrives, the Akoz Duo version will remain the best interpretation available of the work.

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