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.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Libertango - the Handbell Version

We have reviewed the big bell version of Libertango in this blog and now it is time to add the little bell version to our growing collection of Libertango in unexpected arrangements.  The musicians in the video are appearing at an international contest for young carilloneurs at the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" in Mechelen, Belgium.  The arrangement is by Elena Sadina who can be seen leading the handbell choir in the video.

It is a slight stretch to call this the "little bell" version because the young gentleman, named Tim, at the top of the video, who at first glance might be thought to be playing the piano, is playing the big bells - or at least a small version of the big bells.  He is playing a "traveling carillon" which can be dissembled and moved to any concert venue - you can see the cabinet of bells behind the handbell players.  I don't know how Tim finished in the contest but to my ears, his playing of the carillon was excellent as was the playing of the "little bells."

Ms. Sadina is to be congratulated for a wonderful arrangement and an excellent job in leading the group.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

Note added on 24 April, 2012: Thanks to the comment posted below, I was able to correct the identification of the carillon (I originally called it a practice carillon) and to provide the name of the young man playing the carillon.  You can see Tim playing Libertango a week before the competition on a real practice carillon in Mafra, Portugal in this video.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Escualo - Quintetto Anedda

Giuseppe Anedda is not a well known name in the musical world but he should be. He was a virtuoso mandolinist, probably the best the world has ever seen. This year, 2012, is the one hundredth anniversary of his birth and I urge you to take the time to view his performance of the Bach Chaconne in this video. There are a few other videos of the Anedda on YouTube but none which better display his musicality. Two of his grandson's have inherited that musicality and are members of the group featured in today's video. The full name of the group is Quintetto a Plettro "Giuseppe Anedda" and they are about to release a new DVD, Live in Rome, which contains today's featured performance of Escualo.

This is the eleventh time that Escualo has been featured in this blog. Escualo (the title translates to Shark) was composed in 1979. In a two year survey of the most frequently performed Piazzolla compositions, it was number 17. Piazzolla recorded the work four times. My favorite was captured live on October 13, 1983 in Lugano, Switzerland and can be heard on the readily available CD, Adios Nonino. A later but quite famous performance by the quintet can be seen in this video.

The performance by Quintetto Anedda is more precise and controlled than those of Piazzolla but captures perfectly the rhythmic drive of the work which makes it so interesting. The arrangement is respectful of the original but takes full advantage of the staccato, percussive effect of their plectrum created music. These are classically trained musicians and their music has a conservatory feel to it but the jazz roots of Escualo can still be heard. The performance is a good example of the way Piazzolla's music flows easily between the jazz and classical idioms.

The musicians in the quintet are the two grandsons of Anedda: Emanuele Buzi on mandolin and Valdimiro Buzi on mandola, along with Norberto Gonçalves da Cruz on mandolin, Andrea Pace on guitar and Emiliano Piccolini on double bass. Bios of each musician are available on their excellent website. The music from the Live in Rome DVD is available for download now and also contains performances of Piazzolla's Nightclub 1960 and Oblivion. You can also see them perform Piazzolla's Zita in this YouTube video. They are clearly fans of Piazzolla. Giuseppe Anneda was a contemporary of Piazzolla, I wonder if he knew Piazzolla's music and if he ever imagined his grandson's playing it?

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stop and Take a Mate

In October, 2011, I wrote that the only commercial Piazzolla ever made was for Royal Command Whiskey. An alert reader, Mauro, has pointed out that I am wrong. Our featured video today shows Piazzolla in a 1967 television commercial sitting at his piano enjoying a mate. We hear him say something like, "El mate es como la vida misma: me sensaciones vitales" which Google translates as "Mate is like life itself: life gives me feelings." Then an announcer comes on to say something like, "Drink life, stop and take a mate."

It appears to be a general advertisement for the mate industry, but was perhaps sponsored by Establecimiento Las Marías, the largest producer of mate in Argentina. Mate has been called the national drink of Argentina but may be unfamiliar to readers living north of the equator. It is an infusion, similar to tea, and can be found today in many North American health food stores and specialty restaurants.

Thanks to Mauro for bringing this video to my attention. If the video does not appear below, click here.

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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fumo e odore di caffè

Among the more obscure Piazzolla recordings is a promotional album, Café Chantant, issued by the Lavazza Coffee company in 1994, which contains a recording of Milva singing Fumo e odore di caffè accompanied by Piazzolla on the bandoneón. It is so obscure that it is not listed in the incredibly thorough Saito discography of Piazzolla recordings. I knew about the recording only because of an audio/video posted on YouTube in March, 2011. A comment on the video noted the presence of Astor Piazzolla and that the song had come from a 1980 broadcast of the television program, Palcoscenico. Until today's featured video appeared this week, I had no idea that a video of the performance existed. It is now, in fact, quite apparent that the Café Chantant recording is taken directly from the soundtrack of today's video.

Milva was more than just a vocalist for Piazzolla - she was a fan and a promoter. Milva had been famous in Italy since the 1960's when Piazzolla first met her in 1979. Five years later, at Milva's invitation, he toured with her and that tour, according to the Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango, "gave a definite and perhaps the decisive boost to Piazzolla's European fortunes." One of his most popular recordings, Live at the Bouffes du Nord, captured the results of that 1984 tour. It is remarkable that today's video captures the two nearly five years before that tour.

The song is not a Piazzolla composition. I believe it was composed by conductor and composer, Gianni Ferrio, with lyrics by Michele Guardi. Guardi along with Antonello Falqui produced the television show from which today's video was captured. The performance was the last of the show and the credits for the show are running through the entire song. Piazzolla is probably improvising over the accompaniment that Milva normally used for the song and his work is confident and flawless.

Milva's management is fairly aggressive about removing unauthorized video from YouTube. I suggest you watch this video as soon as you can just in case it is removed.

The Milva/Piazzolla performance begins at 1'54" into the video. You may wish to advance the video to that point.

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

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