Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Libertango - Maresch-Johns-Konzert

The song is definitely Libertango, there are definitely two pianos, but I am not absolutely sure how many pianists there are. I count eleven, but there might be more .. or, there might be less. It is one of the more unusual presentations of Libertango I have seen as pianists come and go throughout the piece.

The event is the 2008, Maresch-Johns concert at the Kunstuniversität Graz in Graz, Austria. This concert series was created in 2000 to honor the memory of pianist and staff member at the University, Barbara Maresch. In 2006, following the untimely death of Klaus Johns, a pianist and tango enthusiast who was a stalwart of the Maresch series, the concerts became the Maresch-Johns-Konzert. The concerts are not your standard piano recital - they are marked by spontaneity and interaction and a wide variety of music, but all focused on the piano. Proceeds from the concerts go to charity.

The unusual jazz arrangement of Libertango in today's video is the work of Uli Rennert - the second pianist you see in the video, the one who hits the piano strings with his hand. I cannot identify the other pianists for sure but a related video of the same arrangement, done in the same rotating pianist style include Rennert and eight other pianists: Almira Emiri, Aris Feslikidis, Zoltan Füzessery, Simona Solce, Claudia Micheletti, Bernd Ludescher, Andreas Woyke, and Helmut Iberer. These same pianists are presumed to be in today's video but by my count, there were two other pianists who joined in - perhaps spontaneously. I have no idea who they are. Perhaps a reader can identify them and add a comment. Such surprises are part of the charm of the Maresch-Johns-Konzert.

The music is a treat. All the pianists are excellent and the transitions were all skillfully done. If this is an example of the quality and character of the Maresch-Johns-Konzert series, the Graz audience is to be envied.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

La Muerte del Ángel - One to Five

La muerte del ángel was composed as incidental music for the 1962 play, Tango del ángel, by Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz. It was frequently played by Piazzolla in concert and he recorded it on at least fourteen different occasions. On more than half of those, Pablo Ziegler was the pianist in the recording. Ziegler continues to perform La muerte del ángel providing more than thirty years of continuity to the composition. What follows is a one to five salute to Ziegler's contribution to the work, La muerte del ángel.

One: First comes the man, Pablo Ziegler. He joined Piazzolla's second quintet as it was formed in 1978 and was the pianist for the quintet throughout its existence. According to the Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango, Ziegler was viewed as the outstanding young jazz pianist in Argentina at the time and came highly recommended by Oscar Lopez Ruiz, the initial second quintet guitarist and long time friend of Piazzolla. Ziegler is a talented jazz improviser as well as a disciplined pianist and creative composer. Piazzolla's influence on Ziegler is apparent in his work, for example in the excellent 1998 CD, Asfalto, but I suspect that Ziegler also influenced Piazzolla to incorporate more of the jazz idiom into the performances of the quintet.

Two: While to my knowledge, Ziegler never recorded a solo piano version of La muerte del ángel (I am sure he could and wish he would), he and Emanual Ax did record what has become the gold standard piano duo of the work in the 1997 CD, Los Tangueros. While I do not believe a video of Ziegler and Ax playing La muerte del ángel exists on YouTube, Ziegler's arrangement has been published by Tonos and it is frequently performed by piano duos in concerts all over the world. The arrangement is highly derivative of Piazzolla's original and a fusion of classical and tango styling. Most pianist playing the arrangement perform it in the context of classical music. As an example, I have include below one of the better performances you will find on YouTube by tangopuntodos (Ángel Huidobro Vega and Jorge García Herranz).

Three: Ziegler does, however, appear in a video with a trio format. Joined by Quique Sinesi on guitar and Walter Castro on bandoneón, the trio version opens in nuevo tango mode but around the 2'30" point, the group loosens and enters a not particularly inspired improvisational section before returning to the "original" at 3'45". You can hear more of this trio in the 2005 CD, Bajo Cero.

Four: More recently, Ziegler along with Hector del Curto on bandoneón, Claudio Ragazzi on guitar and Pedro Giraudo on contrabass provided a quartet arrangement of La muerte del ángel at the 2009, Fujitsu Jazz Festival in San Francisco. Once again, improvisation enters at about 2'30" but this time extends for a full two minutes. In contrast to the trio, the musicians in the quartet enhance the music with the improvisational skills - Ziegler is particularly on his game in this performance. To my knowledge, this quartet has, unfortunately, not yet produced any recordings.

Five: For Ziegler in a quintet performance of La muerte del ángel, we turn to Piazzolla's quintet performing the work at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1984. Ziegler and Piazzolla are joined by other quintet members Oscar Lopez Ruiz on guitar, Fernando Suarez Paz on violin, and Hector Console on bass. This performance is available on both DVD and CD and represents one of the peaks of the second quintet's success.

Interestingly, a similar "one to five" overview of Ziegler's work may be on the way to a stage near you. He has scheduled performances in New York City on April 23, 2011 and in Sacramento, California on April 29th which are described with these words on the Ziegler website, "Pablo Ziegler Beyond Tango progresses from piano duo, through trio, quartet, quintet and finally larger chamber ensemble." Let's hope the videographers bring the concert to YouTube or, better yet, to a DVD.

If the videos do not appear in the above, click here for the piano duo; here for the trio; here for the quartet; and here for the quintet.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bordel 1900 - Marc Grauwals & Astoria

Today's video features flute player Marc Grauwals as a guest with the tango quintet, Astoria, playing Bordel 1900 as arranged by Astoria accordionist, Christophe Delporte. Grauwals has a special relationship to this piece. Piazzolla dedicated his Histoire du tango series (Bordel 1900 is the first in that series) to Grauwals; Grauwals premiered the piece in 1985 with guitarist, Guy Lukowski; and, later that same year made the first recording of it, again with Lukowski, on a Teldec lp. That performance, which is still available on the reissue CD, Hommage à Liège, remains today the definitive performance of the Histoire series.

Today's performance is quite different from that of 1985 - you notice it almost immediately with the sound of a police whistle joining that of the flute on the fourth note of the piece. And then it gets really interesting. The melody moves around, percussion adds tasteful highlights, the piece bobs and weaves and then comes home with a smile. The Histoire series were written for flute and guitar but have been arranged for many combinations of instruments including full orchestra. Delporte's arrangement is the best, by far, of any transmutation of the guitar/flute combination to another set of instruments I have ever heard. The musicians are spectacularly good but the arrangement is a work of true creative genius. You will find this Bordel 1900 and the other three sections of the Histoire on Astoria's new CD, Histoire Du Tango. This is the third Astoria recording devoted to the music of Piazzolla (Tiempo del Angel in 2006 and Adios Nonino in 2008 were the first two). Astoria has never sought to duplicate the quintet sound of Piazzolla but have always been true to the spirit and foundations of the music. With each released recording, they have become a little more free with their interpretations and now have a voice which is unique in the Piazzolla world. And it is a voice which deserves repeated listening.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

October, 2010 Review of Piazzolla Videos

There were 971 videos of Piazzolla’s music posted on YouTube in the month of October, 2010, an increase of 74% over the same month in 2009. 548 (56%) of the videos were performance videos featuring live performances. The others were videos which used Piazzolla’s music as a sound track for photo or video montages. I highlighted my journey through these many videos in this blog.

Forty-five percent of the performance videos were in the classical mode, 13% in jazz, 14% in nuevo tango and 28% in pop.

Here are the most frequently performed pieces this month (Libertango was the most frequently played – 30% of the total; the others follow in order):

1. Libertango
2. Oblivion
3. Adios Nonino
4. Histoire du tango – Bordel 1900
5. Invierno Porteño
6. Verano Porteño
7. La muerte del ángel
8. Chiquilin de Bachin
9. Balada para un loco
10. Milonga del ángel

The top three on this list seem to be fairly stable month-to-month but the bottom seven change every month.

The performance videos came from 54 different countries. Argentina posted the most videos: 92. The top ten posting countries are listed in order here:

1. Argentina
2. Italy
3. USA
4. Japan
5. Spain
6. Russia
7. Germany
8. France
9. Brazil
10. Canada, Netherlands, Ukraine (tie)

There were twenty-one Piazzolla originals posted. Thirteen of these have been previously posted but the others appeared on YouTube for the first time. They included seven segments of a documentary film and a version of the original Libertango played by Piazzolla and studio musicians, including his son Daniel and his producer, Aldo Pagani. . There was also an audio-only interview with Piazzolla which I believe is new to YouTube.

Quality of performance varied from excellent to bizarre. Because of its historical importance, my favorite of the month was the Piazzolla original performance of Libertango.

The choice for most bizarre this month is an instructional video on the harvesting of underwater spaghetti which uses Gotan Project's version of Cité Tango as a sound track.

I have put a table with links to all 971 videos as well as some more information on the videos on the October, 2010 link in my Piazzolla on Video website.

Best video of the month:

Most Bizarre video of the month:

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Balada para un loco - Julien Clerc

I believe today's video of Piazzolla accompanying Julien Clerc in a performance of Balada para un loco (Ballade pour un fou) is new to YouTube. The video is apparently from a French television broadcast and is probably from 1974 or 1975. According to an impressive Clerc discography, Etienne Roda-Gil created French lyrics for Loco in 1974, and Clerc released the song as a 45 rpm single which spent several weeks on the French hit parade. His cover of the song was an important opening for Piazzolla into the European music market and biographies of Piazzolla frequently contain a quote along the line of, "Libertango has been recorded by such famous artists as Julien Clerc, Grace Jones and Yo-yo Ma." Clerc still retains Loco in his repertoire: a relatively recent (and better) performance with Richard Galliano on the bandoneón can be seen here.

To my knowledge, Piazzolla never made a studio recording of the song with Clerc - this video may be the only example of the two of them together. In contrast to some of the Italian television video, I believe the music is performed live here. Piazzolla, who looks a bit uncomfortable in the video, glances a couple of times to his right as if picking up cues from an orchestra and at one point rotates his bandoneón to place the treble face adjacent to the microphone for a short bandoneón solo. But the star of this show is very much Julien Clerc and the camera does not spend much time on Piazzolla.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Bordel 1900 - The Fourth Wall Ensemble

It took more than one conceptual leap to create the Fourth Wall Ensemble's version of Bordel 1900. First they converted a piece composed originally for a flute and guitar duo into a trio for flute, bass trombone and accordion. Then they choreographed a dance, not an early twentieth century tango, as one might suppose, but something that "Professor" Harold Hill or Busby Berkeley might create if they had heard of the tango but never actually saw it danced. And, finally, instead of hiring a dance troupe, they do the dance themselves while playing. And, remarkably, they do it without missing a note or a step. The final result is a new and different and totally delightful production of Bordel 1900. These folks know how to generate a smile.

The members of Fourth Wall are Hilary Abigana on flute, C. Neil Parsons on bass trombone, and Greg Jukes on accordion (although percussion is his usual assignment). In addition to the trombone work, Parsons also provides the choreography for the group. Their website refers to the group as a "hybrid arts ensemble" combining the roles of musician, dancer and actor - a good description of what they do. You can see more of their work on their YouTube Channel.

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