Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Edouard Pecourt and Chau Paris

Edouard Pecourt was one of the few people in Paris in 1954 who knew the name of Astor Piazzolla but he did not know that Piazzolla had just arrived in Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger. Pecourt ran a record shop called La Boîte à Disques but more importantly, he was in love with the music of tango and had begun what was to become a lifelong obsession for collecting tango music memorabilia. He had taught himself how to read Spanish and knew of Piazzolla from reading tango magazines imported from Argentina. A mutual friend introduced them which started a close friendship, lasting until Piazzolla's death in 1992. Pecourt was a remarkable man and this interview by Greg Tozian, made shortly before Pecourt's death at the age of 83, is worth reading. It not only details his close relationship with Piazzolla but also gives a sense of the enormous vitality which Pecourt possessed.

Pecourt's collection grew to tens of thousands of items - recordings, video tapes, magazines, scores, posters, photographs - all related to tango. The collection includes what may be the definitive collection of Piazzolla recordings, an enviable collection of Piazzolla concert videos, a set of correspondence between he and Piazzolla and at least one autographed score of the piano cadenza to Adios Nonino. The collection resides today outside of Portland, Oregon where it is curated by his American wife, Jocelyn Howells. Today's first video features a tour of that collection narrated by Pablo Aslan. This blog recently profiled Aslan and his new recording, Piazzolla in Brooklyn. The tour Aslan shares in the video was part of the research he did in preparing that wonderful recording.

Piazzolla immortalized his friendship with Pecourt by dedicating to Edouard and his wife, Chau Paris, a piece he composed while studying in Paris and which he recorded there in 1955 on the album, Sinfonia de Tango. There are a number of versions of Chau Paris on YouTube but the one which I think is the most authentic is the performance by the Orquesta Típica "Central" del CSMA, a group which has been previously profiled in this blog. It is included below as the second video.

If the Pecourt tour video does not appear below, click here.

If the video of Chau Paris does not appear below, click here.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012


Bragatissimo is rarely heard Piazzolla. It was recorded by Piazzolla and his Nuevo Octeto in 1963, reportedly in a basement in Uruguay, but released only in a limited edition 7" 33 rpm record. It was never included in subsequent collected works or, to my knowledge, performed again by Piazzolla. I had never heard Piazzolla's version of the work until it appeared this week in a YouTube video which is one of two featured performances in today's blog.

José Bragato, to whom the work is dedicated, was the cellist in that Nuevo Octeto and had a close musical relation with Piazzolla throughout their professional careers. He produced "classical" arrangements for ensembles and orchestras of Piazzolla's work which are still widely played today and most of Piazzolla's handwritten scores passed through his hands on their way to becoming finished musical products. I understand that many of those scores have been placed in a small museum in Mar del Plata by Bragato for the benefit of future generations of musicians. Bragato is an important composer in his own right and someday, hopefully, an enterprising writer will capture the relationship between Bragato and Piazzolla in a book (are you listening Ms. Azzi?).

Bragatissimo was composed in more of a classical than nuevo tango mode although there are hints of classical tango in the mid-section. It opens with a lyrical passage which shows well the musicianship of Bragato but at roughly the two minute mark, a bombastic nuevo classical element enters the work and Bragato, unfortunately, never returns. The contrast is striking. One wonders if Piazzolla is not modeling the two men and their relationship - Bragato the calm, elegant classical musician and Piazzolla, the brash, rule breaking new wave musician. The two meet in the middle but never resolve into a single entity. The lack of resolution is, to me, a weakness in the work but appears to be quite purposefully done.

A second video is included for comparison. It is a chamber orchestra version of Bragatissimo arranged and conducted by Marcel Costas. There is still no resolution but I believe that Costas' arrangement takes a little of the bombastic edge off the work and adds a musicality that is missing in the original. To my ears it is better music. Oscar López Ruiz has recognized Costas as providing "a sensitive interpretation of the Piazzolla feeling" and commented most favorably on the performances captured in Costas' recording La Música de Astor Piazzolla. López Ruiz, it should be noted, was a member of the Nuevo Octeto heard in the original. While the Costas recording does not include Bragatissimo, a video possibly recorded at the same time does include it and is included below.

If the original does not appear below, click here.

If the Marcel Costas version does not appear below, click here.

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

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tango Nuevo Cabaret - Sergei Tumas

Sergei Tumas is a well known tango choreographer and dancer so it was big news when he announced that he was creating a stage production dedicated entirely to the music of Astor Piazzolla. His show was titled Tango Nuevo Cabaret and the public got its first look at it in June, 2009 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in California. Music was provided by Walter Rios on bandoneon with an Armenian tango group, Cadence Ensemble. The show was successful enough to attract investors into supporting a world tour version of the show.

In October, 2011 that show premiered at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater just across the Hollywood freeway from the more famous Hollywood Bowl. Reviews were mixed and it remains to be seen if the world tour will ensue. Nevertheless, any large scale production based on Piazzolla's music deserves attention from this blog and the recent posting of sixteen videos from that show provides the opportunity. You can find all of those videos on Sergei's YouTube channel.

Quite a lot changed in the move from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium to the Ford Amphitheater. Walter Rios is gone, replaced by Peter Soave. And the Cadence Ensemble is replaced by a collection of talented jazz musicians from the Los Angeles area assembled under the name of the Tango Jazz Chamber Orchestra. While Soave is listed as the nominal leader of the group, the videos certainly suggest that it is Miles Mosely, the bassist, who is in charge. I have chosen to feature their performance of Buenos Aires Hora Cero in this blog - not because it is the best of the sixteen but because it is typical of the performances.

And, how were the performances? In a word, terrible. The music is absolutely lifeless. There are moments where things work: for example, Kamasi Washington's introduction to Libertango where the jazz element is unfettered and the vocal performance of Balada para mi muerte by Martin de Leon is superb (note however, it is to recorded accompaniment - the band is not playing). But there are other times where musical disaster appears imminent as in the opening of Primavera Portena. But most of the time it looks like a set of musicians uncomfortably sight reading new scores producing inarticulate, unaccented facsimiles of Piazzolla's music. A little more rehearsal time and a little more guidance from Soave or Rios, both of whom know their way around Piazzolla's music very well, might have saved the day. That day will probably never come again - a world tour seems unlikely to me.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

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