Monday, May 28, 2012

Balada Para Un Loco - Brancaleone

In a recent blog, I marveled that Lionius Treikauskas could listen to Piazzolla and Gerry Mulligan perform Twenty Years After and hear the potential for a chamber orchestra piece.  It is no less marvelous that someone in the Argentine rock band, Brancaleone, could listen to Piazzolla and Amelita Baltar perform Balada para un loco and hear a rock anthem. But as today's featured video demonstrates, that is exactly what they did.

Brancaleone is not to be confused with the Italian band of the same name (although I suspect they share the same drummer).  Brancaleone is a long established Buenos Aires rock band in the style of some of the great heavy metal bands from the 70's (think Black Sabbath).  They are fronted by vocalist, Martín Dufou, who is probably the man who inspired the band to undertake Balada para un loco.  I have long maintained that only singers who are good actors should put themselves in the position of singing the Balada loco and Dufou seems to fulfill that requirement.  He is an emotive and energetic singer who never seems to give anything less than everything as he belts out a tune.  He has been belting out Balada para un loco with Brancaleone at least since 2007 and they even have an acoustic version for what passes as quiet moments in the rock sphere. While I don't find it on the track lists of any of their four albums, there is a polished, studio version which you can hear here.

For musical quality and as an example of how Piazzolla's music easily crosses musical boundaries, that studio version is the best. But, the live version from a performance this week at Fiesta Clandestina has an energy that is missing in all the other versions.  That two bar repeating riff at the end of the song is true rock anthem stuff. Makes me want to stand on my chair and wave a lighted BIC over my head.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Libertango - Jun Hayakawa

Perhaps it wasn't clinically depressed, but it was certainly sad.  It's bellows sagged, it's lower registers were flat, and the keys didn't spring back quickly when they were depressed. Probably just homesickness. After all, it had not been home for nearly seventy-five years. So Jun Hayakawa bought his bandoneón a ticket to go home to that tiny corner of German Saxony where it was born and he accompanied it on its journey.

They arrived in Klingenthal, Germany in early May.  Klingenthal is arguably the birthplace of free reed instruments like concertinas, bandoneóns and accordions. According to Dan Worrall's book, The Ango-German Concertina, A Cultural History, the Glier brothers, living in the Klingenthal area, were among the first to put a housing around an aeolina making what we might recognize today as a harmonica. They put it into production in 1829. Carl Friedrich Uhlig in nearby Chemnitz, took the next step in 1835 adding buttons and a bellows.  But serious production did not get underway until Carl Friedrich Zimmermann built a factory near Carlsfeld, about 10 km northeast of Klingenthal.  I refer you to Christian Mensing's wonderful Bandoneón Page for the details of the rest of the story but the bottom line is that most of the bandoneóns played today came out of that factory and its descendents in Carlsfeld. That includes the fine bandoneón of Mr. Hayakawa which, I am happy to report, shed all signs of depression as soon as its bellows filled with the fresh Erzgebirge air in Klingenthal.

Secondarily, Hayakawa traveled from his home in Japan to Klingenthal, Germany to participate in the 49th annual Accordion Festival there.  This is one of the more important accordion festivals in the world and almost certainly, the oldest. We do not have a video of his performance at Klingenthal, but we do have videos of him rehearsing, perhaps in the breakfast room of his hotel, including today's featured video of Libertango. I was unprepared for the virtuosity demonstrated in this video.  Hayakawa has been a student of the most famous Japanese bandoneónist, Ryota Komatsu, among others, but I believe he has surpassed the technical skills of his master.  He has lightening speed, detailed bellows control, plays equally well on push and draw, maintains complex rhythms with either hand, employs a broad range of dynamics and uses complex but totally appropriate chords. Hayakawa has laid down the gauntlet for other bandoneón players - let's see them top that performance.  And it is not just that he can play fast, he can play with feeling also - watch his version of the classic La casita de mis viejos.

I was shocked to learn that he came in third at the Klingenthal festival with first place going to Wu Yung-Lung from Taiwan and second place going to Gierster Lukas from Germany.  There is a video of Wu playing at the contest and he is indeed a superb bandoneónist.  But, if there is ever a rematch - perhaps at Castelfidardo in September?- I'll put my money on Hayakawa.

Incidentally, they still build very fine bandoneons in Klingenthal.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Twenty Years After - Intermezzo Chamber Ensemble

Today's featured video of Twenty years after performed by the Intermezzo Chamber Ensemble is not authentic Piazzolla.   But, it is wonderful Piazzolla.

Twenty years after was composed in 1974 for an album conceived by Aldo Pagani for two musicians he happened to represent in Italy: Astor Piazzolla and Gerry Mulligan. The story of the recording of the album, Summit (Reunion Cumbre), is wonderfully told in the Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango.  It was a rocky start - Piazzolla was disappointed in Mulligan's ability to read music and Mulligan was flummoxed by the lack of chordal structure in Piazzolla's compositions. But the result was a commercially, if not critically, successful album and Mulligan met his future wife, a photographer friend of Piazzolla, in the course of the recording. There is some good music on the CD but Mulligan's talents are misused in most of it - including the piece, Twenty years after.  It is a work that I have dismissed as a Piazzolla mistake - until today's video.

Some astonishingly talented arranger could hear that Twenty years after was not a mistake. Could hear that underneath that hyperactive drummer and inside the uninspired playing in the recording existed the bones of a fantastic work of classical music.  The arranger could be someone in the Intermezzo Chamber Ensemble, a twelve member string group headquartered in Vilnius, Lithuania. Perhaps even Lionius Treikauskas, cellist and leader of the ensemble who includes composition amongst his talents. Some compositional freedom was taken with the first half of the piece - the motifs are there but both harmonic and rhythmic changes make the opening much more like something Piazzolla would write for the Kronos Quartet than for Gerry Mulligan. It is much more coherent than Piazzolla's original and the arranger has wisely chosen to ignore Mulligan's improvisations. The piece follows a familiar Piazzolla pattern - a fast, disjunctive, minor, descending theme section, followed by a slow, lyrical, major ascending theme section, and concluding with a synthesis of the two to bring the work to resolution at the end. The latter half of the arrangement follows Piazzolla's work quite closely. The more I listen to the Intermezzo Ensemble version, the more links I find to the Piazzolla original.  This is truly masterful arranging and the result is an extremely satisfying chamber orchestra work which should find its way into the repertoire of other chamber orchestras.  In fact, I think there is room to expand this into a full orchestral version to good effect.

If I were not so taken by the arranging work, I would be commenting on the skills of the Intermezzo Chamber Ensemble.  They are a disciplined, well rehearsed unit and much of the pleasure of the performance is the result of their skills.  Bravo!

This is the best Piazzolla performance posted on YouTube so far in 2012 - it may just turn out to be the best of the year.  If the video does not appear below, click here.

Note added 22 May, 2012: A private communication from Lionius Treikauskas confirms that he is indeed the arranger of the piece.  The performance was in February, 2011 at the home of the Lithuanian National Philharmonic.  The performance was broadcast by Lithuanian national television.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Libertango - Yo-Yo Ma and Friends

It is the most watched performance of a Piazzolla work on YouTube: Libertango performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Friends. The video first appeared on April 27, 2006, posted by darkcurita but it is essentially the same video, posted on August 14, 2006, by BambaMaker, that has received the most views - more than 6.7 million to-date.  Many others have since posted a copy of the same video - I estimate that there have been more than 150 copies of the video posted on YouTube (the estimate is based on an actual count of 26 postings over 2009 and 2010) and with those copies included, it has probably been viewed nearly nine million times.

The video originated as part of a full hour broadcast by America's PBS network of the series, Sessions at West 54th, on October 25, 1997.  The appearance of Yo-Yo Ma on this program was part of the publicity campaign for his CD, Soul of the Tango, which was issued that same month and later went on to win a Grammy as Best Classical Crossover Album. The posted videos apparently all result from a Korean DVD or rebroadcast of that program. A video of the performance is also available on a commercial DVD, The Best of Sessions at West 54th, Vol. 1.

Libertango was composed in 1974 as part of a set of short tunes aimed at capturing radio play.  The song almost immediately became popular and has remained so for nearly forty years. It has become a standard. During a detailed study of Piazzolla performances posted on YouTube during 2009 and 2010, it was found that 30% were performances of Libertango.  It is, by far, the most frequently performed Piazzolla work. There are hundreds of arrangements for almost any imagined combination of instruments.  The arrangement for the Soul of the Tango recording, which is the same as used in the video, was created specifically for Yo-Yo Ma by the famed Argentine composer/arranger/producer Jorge Calandrelli.  The initial recording for the CD was made in May, 1997 in Buenos Aires.  Yo-Yo Ma was joined for that recording by three members of Piazzolla's quintets: Antonio Agri on violin, Horacio Malvicino on guitar and Hector Console on bass along with Néstor Marconi on bandoneon and Leonardo Marconi on piano. Rather than fly all these musicians from Argentina to New York City for the PBS video, the producers brought only Nestor Marconi and hired Pablo Aslan,  a young bassist and leader of the New York Buenos Aires Connection band, to provide the other musicians. Aslan added musicians he was working with at the time: Claudio Ragazzi on guitar, Jacqui Carrasco on violin, and Ethan Iverson on piano.  Those four plus Nestor Marconi and Yo-Yo Ma are the musicians seen in the video. No doubt, to be able to play with Yo-Yo Ma was a career high for Aslan and his three young friends. In addition to appearing in the video performance, Aslan also toured the U.S. and Japan with Yo-Yo Ma performing music from the Soul of the Tango recording.

The video deserves the large viewership - the arrangement makes the most of the limited musical vocabulary of the composition. The musicians play with precision and sensitivity to each other. Yo-Yo Ma, as always, brings an immense amount of musicality and emotion to his performance. There are some performance differences between the video performance and the performance recorded in the CD.  In the CD, Agri includes some of his trademark lija (the scratching sounds which are made by bowing the D string behind the bridge) - those percussive sounds are missing in the video performance.  The short, staccato bridge that occurs at about 1'45" in the video is more accented  in the video than in the CD, making it more of a separation than a link. At about 2'10" in the video, Marconi adds, to good effect, some syncopated notes that are absent in the CD.  A guitar counter-melody, perhaps improvised by Malvicino, starts at around 2'15" in the CD and is totally absent in the video - I miss it.  And the most noticeable difference is the ending - the CD just fades out while the video ends abruptly with a full stop at the end of a phrase.  I find the video ending much more effective.  If I could retain only one video of Libertango in my collection, it would be this one - even in preference to the video that Piazzolla himself made.

My thanks to Pablo Aslan for the information he provided identifying the musicians in the video.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

While this blog was created to focus on newly available Piazzolla Performance videos, I have chosen to review this classic video in celebration of my 500th posting to this blog. 

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Invierno Porteño - Ro Gebhardt Trio

Jazz guitarist, Roland Gebhardt, is the star of the trio bearing his name but Pedro Giraudo, making back-to-back appearances in this blog, is the star in today's video of Invierno Porteño.  Ro Gebhardt is one of the best known jazz guitarists in Europe.  He has his own recognizable style which blends the mellowness of Wes Montgomery, the agility of Django, and the musical sensibility of Charlie Byrd.  Like Montgomery, he plays a Gibson L-5 CES archtop, a jazz favorite whose design dates back to 1922. Ro plays with many musicians but in this trio is joined by Bernd Oezsevim on drums and by Giraudo on bass. Giraudo is a currently a resident of New York City but is originally from Argentina. In addition to being a bassist, he is a composer and has his own Latin jazz orchestra with a new award winning recording, Córdoba. He frequently plays with Pablo Ziegler (see this blog) and is no stranger to the music of Piazzolla. Today's video provides an excellent opportunity to see Giraudo's talents up close.

You might assume that Giraudo brought Piazzolla to Gebhardt but I think that is not the case.  In 2005, Gebhardt included Invierno Porteño  in an album titled, Solo – improvisations and variations on music from different centuries.  That album is difficult to find but you can hear the entire recording of Invierno Porteño  here.  While the playing is excellent and creative, the arrangement is a bit scattered and lacks consistency.  In 2008, Gebhardt created a quite different and much better arrangement.  The 2005 version covered the entire work - even the Vivaldi-like bits at the end, but the 2008 version was more of a jazz meditation on the principal theme of the work. That version can be found on his 2008 CD, European Jam, with Davide Petrocca on bass.  It is essentially that same arrangement that is found on today's video with Giraudo on bass.

The performance showcases Giraudo's absolute perfection of pitch and his rhythmic sensitivity to the tango roots of the work which are often lost in the hands of others. In most of the video, Giraudo plucks the melody and Gebhardt improvises beautifully around it while drummer, Bernd Oezsevim, provides very discreet and tasteful brush work in the background. This is not finger-snapping jazz.  It is jazz to be enjoyed by the fire with good friends and a glass of wine.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Mumuki - Pablo Ziegler with Karen Gomyo

They make a fascinating pair: Pablo Ziegler and Karen Gomyo.
They make a fascinating pair: Pablo Ziegler, 1984 and Pablo Ziegler, 2012
They make a fascinating pair: the two video performances below of Mumuki

"Mumuki" was a term of endearment that Piazzolla applied both to his wife, Laura, and to one of his dogs, Flora. It became the title of one of his most beautiful works, composed in 1984.  It must have been one of Piazzolla's favorites since he recorded it on seven different occasions and performed it frequently. For a work composed for quintet, it is relatively unusual in that the bandoneón is silent during the first three and a half minutes as the beautiful melodic lines are passed between guitar, violin and piano.

Mumuki has not been featured before in this blog and it is appropriate that its appearance comes through a video by Pablo Ziegler's quartet with Karen Gomyo as a guest artist. Ziegler was pianist with Piazzolla's quintet when Mumuki was very first recorded live at a concert at the Roxy theater in Mar del Plata, Argentina (that recording available here).  He knows the work better than any living artist today.  Ziegler is a jazz artist and often his current performances of Piazzolla enjoy the freedom that jazz can bring to music but with this performance of Mumuki, he is very respectful of the original and follows, almost exactly, the original score.For some time now, Ziegler has worked with the other three members of his quartet: Hector del Curto on bandoneón, Claudio Ragazzi on guitar, and Pedro Giraudo on bass.  They are sometimes joined in concert by Regina Carter as a guest violinist to form a full Piazzolla quintet. In today's video, they are joined by a new guest violinist, Karen Gomyo. Ms. Carter is no doubt one of the better violinists of the day but, for me, her playing has never captured Piazzolla. In contrast, Ms. Gomyo is absolutely superb. It is not just the Stradivarius violin she is playing, she captures the very essence of Piazzolla's sound as defined by Fernando Suárez Paz in Piazzolla's second quintet.  If we were to create an All-Star Piazzolla Quintet today, Ms. Gomyo would get the nod as violinist. Today's video is from a March, 2012, performance at Koerner Hall in Toronto, Canada and, unfortunately, I see no further performances together on their calendars although Ms. Gomyo does consistently include Piazzolla in her concerts. You do have one other opportunity to see Ms. Gomyo and Ziegler together in the YouTube video of Michelangelo 70 which is very good but not quite "pure" Piazzolla.

For the purpose of comparisons, I have included a second video which shows Piazzolla and his quintet performing Mumuki  in a 1984 Venezuelan television production.  The pianist in the quintet is a Pablo Ziegler with the loss of 28 years of age. It is fun to click back and forth between the two videos and compare the music. You will note a slightly slower pace in today's version and you will notice that Ziegler plays fewer notes today than he did in 1984 - he has distilled his part to its essence.  The other musicians in the 2012 version stay remarkably true to the path defined by their counterparts in 1984.

If the videos do not appear below, click here for the 2012 version and here for the 1984 version.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Piazzolla! - Orchestre National de Jazz

It would be folly to announce the 2012 Piazzolla Recording of the Year before it is even released, but I am tempted.  That tempting recording will be titled Piazzolla! and it has already been recorded by Daniel Yvinec's Orchestre National de Jazz, better known to jazz fans as ONJ. Release is scheduled for the fall of 2012, but a few lucky people at the Pannonica in Nantes, France got a preview at ONJ's January 19 premiere performance of Piazzolla!. Fortunately for us, film maker Juan Sebastian Torales has made a teaser video of the program which is our featured video for today.

ONJ is a totally unique group. It was founded in 1986 by the French Ministry of Culture. Daniel Yvinec is the tenth leader of ONJ and his approach has been a bit different.  The previous nine were band leaders, Yvinec has been positioned as an artistic director and thus has the freedom to work with other leading figures in the creation of the music.  The band itself is also a bit different. Many of the earlier ONJ groups were staffed with the leader's own musicians supplemented with All-Stars chosen from the French jazz scene. Yvinec has chosen ten very young musicians, all very talented but essentially unknown to him and to most jazz fans.  Working with this essentially blank canvas, Yvinec created "projects" for them to work on as varied as the music from Carmen to the music of rock singer, Robert Wyatt. To appreciate the variety and quality of the results, I urge you to watch the Torales' videos of four of ONJ's recent projects at this webpage.  Not only will you find some interesting music, you will also view some excellent videography.

My enthusiasm for the project, however, is unrelated to any enthusiasm for ONJ - it is a direct result of the involvement of Gil Goldstein in the project.  Goldstein is perhaps the premiere jazz arranger of our era. Known by many for his work with the legendary Gil Evans (a friend and fan of Piazzolla), his work goes far beyond that and includes film scores and work with such luminaries as Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. He is also a performer (on both piano and accordion), a composer and author of the interesting book, The Jazz Composer's Companion.  Goldstein did not know Piazzolla's music when he came to the project so has a very fresh take on the music and from the samples in today's video, it is apparent that we are going to hear something different and exciting from the upcoming recording. One of Goldstein's closing comments in the video could be the mantra for many of the regular readers of this blog, "We are all trying to find Piazzolla."

You will hear bits of Libertango, Tres Minutos con la realidad, Balada para un loco, Oblivion and Chiquilin de Bachin in the video. They come from Torales video of rehearsals, the concert at the Pannonica and a recording session at Studios Ferber.  Join me in waiting and watching for the album to appear on iTunes.  Meanwhile, enjoy today's video.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Oblivion - Quatrotango

It is shortly after the goat herdesses sing Rest, way-worn man, in William Dimond's play, The Broken Sword, that Captain Zavier tells Pablo the story of  the little boy who leaped out of the tree in the woods of Collares:

Capt. Zavier: At the dawn of the fourth day's journey, I entered the wood of Collares, when suddenly from the thick boughs of a cork tree ..

Pablo (jumping up): A chestnut, Captain, a chestnut.

Zav.: Bah! you booby, I say a cork.

Pab.: And I swear, a chestnut - Captain! this is the twenty-seventh time I have heard you relate this story, and you invariably said, a chestnut, till now.

Zav.: Did I? Well, a chestnut be it then.

And from that dialog in Dimond's play, first performed in 1816, arose the expression "old chestnut" to describe a piece of music which has been played so often that it has become stale from repetition.

Piazzolla's old chestnuts are Libertango and Oblivion.

But as shown in today's video performance of Oblivion by Quatrotango, even an old chestnut can be a tasty morsel in the hands of creative musicians.  The roots of Quatrotango go back to 2000 as a duo of Gabriel Clenar on piano and Hugo Satorre on bandoneón. In 2002, they were joined by violinist, Marcello Rebuffi,  in 2005,contrabassist, Gerardo Scaglione joined and in 2007, Omar Massa replaced Satorre to form the  Quatrotango seen in today's video. For the last five years, they have toured around the world as a quartet and with the touring tango company, Tango Fire. The group, no doubt, can and probably have played Oblivion in its chestnuttiest form but that is not what they do in today's video. They have done what jazz musicians do all the time - extract a few meaningful motifs, take note of the chord progressions and reassemble them as they play in a novel way.  But what you hear in this video is not jazz, it is carefully composed music that starts with a deconstructed model of Oblivion and develops it into something which resembles the original before deconstructing it again into a completely different set of parts. You hear familiar fragments all the way through the piece but it is only the middle where they come together as a whole.  It is very creative and masterful arranging.  It is notable that they add a tango sensibility which was missing in the original (which was composed as a minor theme for the movie, Enrico IV). All four musicians list composing as a capability but I suspect that pianist Clenar may be the master architect here - it is the piano part that provides the framework for the piece.  Some of his reharmonizations are amazing.  The design of the work is no one-time accident, they have done a very similar job on Libertango which you can see in this video.  Both of these performances are captured in their most recent but difficult to find recording, Quatrotango Plays Piazzolla.

Ideally, a video of Rest, way-worn man would be inserted here but sadly, the music from that 1816 play has been lost. If the Oblivion video does not appear below, click here.

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