Thursday, April 28, 2011

Le Grand Tango - Peng Diao

How many musicians in the world do a Charlie Chaplin entrance on stage? How many musicians in the world play Piazzolla on a dizi? And, how many of those would play Le Grand Tango? Today's video provides the answer and the answer is one and his name is Peng Diao.

Peng Diao has appeared before in this blog playing Nightclub 1960. The focus of that blog was on the Chinese folk flute known as a dizi. It is, after all, not a big stretch to go from a Boehm flute to a dizi on a piece composed for flute. The playing was competent but it was the dizi that attracted me. But it was the music that attracted me to today's video. Mr. Diao is not only a showman (see hair, white gloves and greasepaint mustache), he is also a remarkably talented musician. His interpretation is excellent. His technique is flawless. He plays with flair and feeling. And, remarkably, he plays the entire piece - ten minutes of music - without a score. I have watched many musicians play Le Grand Tango on YouTube and I do not recall ever seeing another one play the work from memory. I believe this is a recital performance at the National Taiwan University of Arts and Peng Diao's able accompanist is Yixin Wang but Google Translate is of limited assistance here.

The choice of flute for Le Grand Tango is unusual but not unknown. A commercial arrangement by Reiko Clement is available for flute and guitar - I am guessing that this is the Clement flute part and Piazzolla's original piano part combined. I believe this is the first time a flute version of the work has appeared on YouTube and I am surprised how well it works. The work was originally composed for Mstislav Rostropovich to be played on cello with piano accompaniment. You can read background on the work and hear Rostropovich play the work in this earlier blog posting.

Peng Diao is a remarkable young musician - the Yo-Yo Ma of the dizi. If his video does not appear below, click here. If you find his showmanship interesting, take a look at this.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Tango Suite - Santiago Cimadevilla & Marcos Di Paolo

Others have marveled that Piazzolla, a bandoneón player, could write music so naturally for the guitar. Tango Suite is a perfect example. The piece was composed in 1984 for guitar duo, Sérgio and Odair Assad, and is a standard in the repertoire of guitar duos. Perhaps there is a clue to Piazzolla's view of the guitar in the deconstruction and reassembly of the piece for bandoneón and guitar in today's video of Tango Suite. Piazzolla's voice is so clear in the bandoneón part of this video that one is tempted to think that Piazzolla wrote a bandoneón duet and transcribed it for guitar. Could that be the secret of his success with guitar?

This bandoneón/guitar version of Tango Suite is the result of some remarkable insight on the part of Santiago Cimadevilla and Marcos Di Paolo, both of whom are credited with the arrangement in the notes to the video. Most players follow the Assad model very assiduously - Cimadevilla and Di Paolo do not. They feel free to choose their own pace and their own phrasing. Di Paolo's guitar work is, as best I can follow it, directly from the score and his phrasing and touch is absolutely perfect. But the transfer of the other guitar voice to bandoneón is a significant work of musical creativity. It is not a transcription. It is an understanding of the musical message and translation of it into the voice of the bandoneón. Cimadevilla must be a careful student of Piazzolla's bandoneón technique. He has captured the ornamentation and nuanced phrasing of Piazzolla so well that I could swear it is Piazzolla himself playing at times. The work sounds totally natural as a bandoneón/guitar duet and, in a sense, has a more authentic Piazzolla sound than the original.

Based on my survey of Piazzolla works posted on YouTube in 2009 and 2010, Tango Suite is the 15th most performed work of Piazzolla. Most (76%) of the versions posted are played by a guitar duo but a significant number are versions which have been transcribed for other instruments - most commonly for two marimbas or vibraphone/marimba in a commercial arrangement by Kevin Super. There are also commercial arrangements for woodwind quintet and piano trio and performances by bassoon quartets, saxophone quartets and even saxophone and orchestra. All of these take the music a step away from authentic Piazzolla. The Cimadevilla/Di Paolo arrangement is the only one which takes the music a step closer to an authentic Piazzolla sound. Cimadevilla may not be the first to hear the bandoneón voice in the Tango Suite. In 1996, Al Di Meola asked bandoneónist, Dino Saluzzi, to join him on his interpretation of Tango Suites for the classic recording, Di Meola Plays Piazzolla. Saluzzi's work complements the guitar duo found on the Di Meola recording but in no way does it become a full voice in the musical dialog. The work by Cimadevilla and Di Paolo is unique and, I believe, the best of the alternate arrangements of Tango Suite.

There is a separate video for each of the three movements of Tango Suite. I have chosen to provide only the first below. I encourage you to also watch the second movement, Andante, and the third movement, Allegro. If the first movement, Deciso, does not appear below, click here.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vayamos al Diablo - Escalandrum

"There you go, kid! Be a musician, be poor but be happy!" With those words, Astor Piazzolla blessed his grandson's decision to drop out of University and pursue a life as a drummer. He had started him on that path much earlier by giving him a supermarket bag filled with cash to buy his first drum kit and he would be quite proud today if he could witness his grandson's performance in today's video of Vayamos al Diablo.

To his immense credit, that grandson, Daniel - known to most as Pipi, did not trade on his grandfather's name. He was a serious student of the drum. He built his craft working with a variety of groups and developed enough skill to be recognized as an outstanding latin drummer in New York City. About ten years ago, with musician friends, he formed a band and named it Escalandrum - a salute to his drums and to the sharks (escualo) that he used to fish for with his grandfather. Like many start-up bands, Escalandrum struggled as they explored and developed their own sound - a mixture of funk and latin jazz. But their hard work was recognized with a steadily growing band of fans and a series of successful recordings. Recently, the band decided to further explore their Buenos Aires musical roots and what better way to do that than to study and perform works by Astor Piazzolla. The final result was the release of an album last month, Piazzolla plays Piazzolla, and a series of touring appearances promoting the album. The full story of the evolution of Escalandrum is very well told in an excellent video.

In addition to Pipi Piazzolla, Escalandrum includes Nicolas Gueschberg on piano, Damian Fogiel on tenor sax, Martin Pantyrer on baritone sax and bass clarinet, Gustavo Musso on alto and soprano sax and Mariano Sivori on double bass. The three reeds play like brothers and give the group a unique sound. The work on Piazzolla plays Piazzolla is clearly jazz but it is perhaps the most respectful-to-the-original-quintet jazz I have ever heard. Every musician is top-of-the line and the arrangements are tight and well rehearsed with enough room for improvisation to keep the listener involved. There are ten tracks on the new recording and every one of them is excellent. Today's video is from a live performance at the Bridgestone Music Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The live performance adds about a minute to the drum/bass/piano break found in the recording and gives you a good chance to witness Pipi Piazzolla's creativity.

I know it is too early in the year to make such a claim but I am ready to announce that Piazzolla plays Piazzolla is the Piazzolla Album of the Year for 2011. It is a gem. Pipi deserves to be both rich and happy as a result the music made by Escalandrum. You can help by buying the new album from iTunes or

If the video does not appear below, click here.

Note added 18 April, 2011: A second video from the Bridgestone Festival has been added: Adios Nonino. A heartfelt interpretation - worth watching.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Fugata - Vanessa-Mae

There has always been more to music than what is shown on a score. This becomes quite evident when you compare Fugata, for example, as played by Piazzolla's quintet and by a classical string quintet. They may actually all play the same notes with the same timing but the timbre differences in the instruments leads to quite a different sound at ear level. Today's video illustrates an interesting hybrid of the classical and Piazzolla-style quintet playing Fugata. The leader of the effort, Vanessa-Mae, even alerts the audience to the "quite unusual instruments" - which turn out to be a midi keyboard, an electric guitar and a pair of percussionists who join Vanessa-Mae's violin, a piano and a contrabass. With the midi keyboard set to GM1 patch 24, tango accordion, the group has approximated a bandoneón and is poised to give the audience an almost authentic Piazzolla quintet experience.

And how did it come out? About half-baked, I would say. The electric guitar is nearly perfect - very well played. The guitarist has clearly listened to Oscar López Ruiz or Horacio Malvicino play the work. Piazzolla wrote a full voice for the electric guitar in most of his works and the classical world makes a significant error in not including an appropriate instrument to cover the part. Ms. Mae gains points by including it. The midi keyboard is less successful - no attempt is made to use the keyboard's aftertouch capability to emulate the bandoneón's sound envelope. The three traditional musicians - violin, piano and contrabass do well. The percussion is an unfortunate addition. It is not needed and is a distraction from the music. My mind keeps wondering which of Piazzolla's quintet should play the finger cymbals. It would have been so easy for Ms. Mae to hire a bandoneónist for the performance and give the percussionists the night off. Then the classical-leaning audience would not only have seen "unusual instruments" but also have heard an authentic quintet timbre.

It is not out of character for Vanessa-Mae to challenge the envelop a bit. She is the product of a tiger mom and was a child prodigy in the classical world who rebelled at age eighteen. She became estranged from her mother, played violin with Janet Jackson, recorded jazz fusion and dressed and undressed like a bimbo. And, made a lot of money in the process. She seems to delight in politely poking a finger in the eye of the classical world that nurtured her. If internet reports are to be believed, she is currently in training to join the Thai downhill ski team for the next winter Olympics instead of playing the violin. So much for Brahms and Paganini.

Classical musicians respect Fugata. It starts with a well constructed fugue and carries the theme from that fugue in a smooth and unexpected way to a surrealistic cityscape ending that could have been written by Stravinski. Piazzolla composed the work in 1969 and recorded it twice. First on the famous 1969, Trova label, Adios Nonino, and second, twenty years later, on the almost as famous Kip Hanrahan produced recording, La Camorra. Piazzolla modified the ending for the Hanrahan version but otherwise it is unchanged. Ms. Mae chose to perform the original 1969 version.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sobre Héroes y Tumbas

Complexities abound. Today's video features a film made by Mario Sabato with a musical score by Piazzolla. The film mixes fact and fiction about the writing of the novel, Sobre Héroes y Tumbas, by Ernesto Sabato, father of the film maker. You will see Ernesto Sabato, himself, speaking at the beginning of the film. He is still living, turns 100 this year and is a most interesting man. He is one of the world's most famous human rights activists, a former communist who studied in Moscow, a PhD physicist who worked at the Curie Institute in Paris and at MIT in the USA. However, in 1943, he gave up science and devoted himself to writing, in surrealistic terms, about his native Argentina. Sobre Héroes y Tumbas was his second book and is still viewed by many as his masterpiece although his most famous work must be the Nunca Más which set out the evidence of the disappearance of thousands under the military dictatorship of Argentina.

The movie was made in 1963, and the music featured throughout the short film is titled, Introducción a Héroes y tumbas (my thanks to Pedro-with-the-golden-ears for identification of the piece). The work can be found on the reissue CD, Tango Contemporaneo. On the CD, a reading by Sabato from his novel is included above the music at the end of the seven minute piece. The performance in both the movie and the CD is by the group referred to as the "New Octet" which included José Bragato - cello, Jaime Gosis - piano, Antonio Agri - violin, Oscar López Ruiz - electric guitar, Lee Jacobson - percussion, Jorge Barone - flute, Kicho Díaz - contrabass, and Piazzolla - bandoneón. The music is narrative in form but makes up in evocativeness what it lacks in structure. It is not dissimilar from other music composed for the new octet but it was, at the time, not popular - perhaps a bit too complex for the broader audience to which Piazzolla was beginning to appeal. But from today's perspective, the music was merely foreshadowing the depth of compositional skill which has made Piazzolla's music so attractive to the classical community.

There is another layer adding to the complexity of the story. The female lead in the movie is Egle Martin. According to the Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango, Ms. Martin and Piazzolla began a personal relationship around the time this movie was made. It was Ms. Martin who in 1967, sketched out the idea which Horacio Ferrer and Piazzolla turned into the operita, Maria de Buenos Aires. She, in fact, was destined to play the leading role in the initial production until a personal crisis led Ms. Martin to return to her wealthy rancher husband rather than continue her relationship with Piazzolla. Amelita Baltar took Ms. Martin's place in both the personal relationship and in the role of Maria in the operita.

The movie is in two parts - both are provided below. If the videos do not appear below, click here for part one and here for part two.

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