Thursday, April 26, 2012

Milonga Loca - Julien Labro & Spektral Quartet

The "Big Squeeze" gave residents of Chicago an unusually broad overview of accordion and bandoneón music on April 6, 2012 in a concert in the Pick-Staiger Concert Hall of the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University. Performances ranged from Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor to the kitschy polka, Roll Out the Barrel.  And right in the middle were three performances of Piazzolla for bandoneón and string quartet. One of those, Milonga Loca, is featured in today's video.

Playing the bandoneón is Julien Labro, born in France and trained at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan where, I believe, he currently resides.  With guitarist, Jason Vieaux, he has recently released a CD devoted entirely to the music of Piazzolla but he is much more than another tango musician - in fact, his natural genre seems to be jazz and his work with the Hot Club of Detroit is not to be missed if you are a Django fan.  Labro joins the Spektral Quartet in the video.  Members of Spectral are Aurelien Pederzoli and Austin Wulliman on violin, Doyle Armbrust on viola and Russell Rolen on cello.  The group is relatively new, coming together in Chicago in 2010, but are already receiving recognition for their energetic foray's into the broadest possible range of string quartet music.  They remind me very much of the Kronos Quartet of my youth.  In fact, the performance of Labro and the Spektral quartet at the "Big Squeeze" included two numbers that Piazzolla composed for and performed with the Kronos Quartet. The original performances can be found on the CD, Five Tango Sensations and are among the last performances by Piazzolla before his death in 1992.

While it was tempting to pick one of the Five Tango Sensations covers to feature, I chose Milonga Loca precisely because it was not written for bandoneón and string quartet.  It was written for Piazzolla's classic quintet: bandoneón, violin, piano, electric guitar and double bass and was originally part of the score for the Fernando Solanas movie, El exilio de Gardel: Tangos. In addition to an available soundtrack recording from the movie, Piazzolla also recorded the work on the Tango: Zero Hour CD. The arrangement in today's video, which I would guess was done by Labro, does an excellent job of combining the best out of Piazzolla's two recordings of the work. It has the pace of the Zero Hour version but emphasizes the arrival (and departure) of lyricism as does the original movie version. There is much controlled chaos in the work and I am astounded at the precision that the Spektral Quartet brought to the piece. This is a work that holds up well to repeated listening and has one of the best conclusions of any work composed by Piazzolla.  It practically demands that the audience rise in applause at the end.  I believe that Labro and the Spektral Quartet have done a better job with this work than Piazzolla himself. Bravo!

There are some other related videos to watch.  There is a wonderful 80 minute video of excerpts from the "Big Squeeze" concert where you can see Labro - the jazzman (and see a spectacular performance by Alexander Sevastian of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor).  You can also watch Labro and the Spektral Quartet play the other two Piazzolla pieces, Fear and Asleep on YouTube.

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