Saturday, November 12, 2011

Without the Bongos

Pablo Aslan issued a very interesting album this week: Piazzolla in Brooklyn. The album takes nine tracks from a 1959 Piazzolla LP titled, Take Me Dancing, and reinterprets them in contemporary jazz format. Aslan talks about the concept behind the new recording and you hear quite a bit of the track titled Counterpoint in today's video.

The 1959 version was recorded in New York City during Piazzolla's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to establish a musical career in that city. He recorded six LP's during that period. In five of those, Piazzolla was a band leader and instrumentalist playing other people's music. Take Me Dancing is the only LP of the six in which he was able to play a significant amount of his own music, which he termed Jazz-Tango. That album contains eight tracks composed by Piazzolla and four standards. The music is, for the most part, forgettable - the textures are bland, the tempos metronomic and the bongos are irritating. For many years the music on the LP was available to only a few who were lucky enough to find a copy of it in a dustbin but I note that today, you can download the full contents of the LP.

But Aslan heard something else in the music. As he says in the video, "There is a lot of great music in there, if you can get past the bongos." Aslan, himself a bassist, assembled a quintet: Gustavo Bergalli on trumpet, Nicolas Enrich on bandoneón, Abel Rogantini on piano, and Daniel “Pipi” Piazzolla on drums. He, Enrich and Rogantini transcribed seven of the pieces that Piazzolla had composed, two of the standards and added a tenth piece, La Calle 92 (La Calle translates as "the street" and one of Piazzolla's addresses in NYC was 202 West 92nd Street) which was composed in 1961. All of the musicians are seasoned jazz musicians who also know tango. They recorded the music in Buenos Aires over a period of days. The pattern for each track is roughly the same: they open with essentially a direct reading of the score and after the full thread of the original has been spun they begin to improvise around Piazzolla's music - frequently playing above and around the original themes. They make good music - a clear improvement over 1959. If you are a jazz fan you will enjoy the music. If you are a jazz fan who enjoys Piazzolla, you will love the music. If you are looking for a nuevo tango recording - this one is not for you.

In addition to the interesting comments and snippets of the recording session, you will hear a significant portion of the work Counterpoint (also known as Contratiempo) starting at 3:25 in today's video. You can compare what you hear to Piazzolla's 1959 recording in this video. You may recognize the fugue that opens the piece - Piazzolla recycled it into Fuga y misterio in the operita, Maria de Buenos Aires.

The concept for the album is creative and the execution respects the music that Piazzolla composed. The improvisation is excellent and left me wanting to hear these five musicians take on some of Piazzolla's more successful music rather than his more obscure music.

If the video does not appear below, click here.



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