The Jazz.com Blog
April 16, 2008 · 0 comments
Scott Albin is a regular contributor to these pages -- you may have seen his recent articles on Stéphane Grappelli and "Twelve Essential Jazz Guitar Performances." Below he shares his enthusiasm for a memorable Montreal performance by the late master of tango nuevo, Astor Piazzolla, recently released on CD and DVD.
Milan Records in March released the remastered Astor Piazzolla Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival, on both remastered CD and DVD. Not only was Piazzolla's New Tango Quintet in great form that night, July 4th, 1984, but the new DVD presents for the first time a video of a complete Piazzolla concert performance. I saw this tape on TV in Montreal while attending the 1987 Festival, and between that and hearing the subsequent Central Park concert his Quintet gave in September 1987 (available on a Chesky CD), which was simulcast on New York Public Radio, I was hooked.
As a jazz fan, I related to the group's jazz-like interaction, the adventurous spirit and improvisations, the sophisticated harmonies and counterpoint, the frequent shifts in tempo and time signature, and the use of dissonance and atonality. I soon learned that Piazzolla met virulent resistance from the tango traditionalists, much in the way that the "moldy figs" were outraged by bebop, and Ornette Coleman had to deal with physical violence in reaction to his innovations.
Astor Piazzolla's Montreal Concert
Piazzolla played the bandoneon, a cumbersome button accordian with an unorthodox fingering system, an instrument which his father gave him at age nine while they were living in New York. "If he'd bought me a saxophone, I'd have played jazz," Piazzolla later recalled. "But it was the tango that won." However, he never forgot the jazz he heard while growing up in New York. At the same time, he studied classical piano, and became enamored of Bach. Returning to his native Argentina in the late 1930s, he performed mostly traditional tango and studied Ravel, Bartók and Stravinsky, but his early tango experiments were rejected as too radical. It was while he was studying in Paris with Nadia Boulanger in 1954 that she encouraged the disillusioned Piazzolla to return his focus to the bandoneon and tango.
Beginning with his Octet, and especially with his first Quintet, formed in 1960, he set out in earnest to redo the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements of tango, adding jazz and classical influences. This was "concert tango," more for listening than dancing, and would lead to over 300 Piazzolla compositions, and ballet, theater and film scores. In 1973, Piazzolla suffered a heart attack as Juan Perón returned from exile and political turmoil ensued in Argentina (a military coup resulted in 1976), making Piazzolla's perceived lack of respect for tradition a potential problem. He fled to Italy where he formed his Octeto Electronico, an electric fusion group. Then in 1978 he reestablished his beloved Quintet (adding three new members), with the same instrumentation as before--bandoneon, violin, piano, electric guitar, and bass. This was the group that toured and recorded extensively for the next 10 years, and is heard on this new release. Unfortunately, Piazzolla suffered a major stroke at the height of his popularity in 1990, and died two years later on July 4th, 1992, exactly eight years to the day after the Montreal Jazz Festival concert.
To hear Piazzolla's masterful bandoneon playing on this CD, along with the magnificent violinist Fernando Suárez Paz, the ingenious tango/jazz/classical style of pianist Pablo Ziegler, the formidable bassist Héctor Console, and the subtly effective electric guitarist Oscar Lopez Ruiz, is to be enthralled and uplifted by an unsurpassed ensemble. Better yet, watch them on the DVD, for, as the saying goes, "seeing is believing." Some of Piazzolla's best known compositions are performed, including "Muerte del Angel," "Resurrección del Angel," "Tristeza de un Doble A," and "Adiós Nonino."
One final note: Piazzolla inspired many jazz and classical musicians, and recorded with Gary Burton, Paquito D'Rivera, and Gerry Mulligan. He also received recorded tributes from, among others, Burton (twice), Al DiMeola (twice), Richard Galliano (who also assisted in the remastering of the Montreal concert), Gidon Kremer, and Yo Yo Ma. Meanwhile, Pablo Ziegler's New Tango group continues to follow Piazzolla's path, and on the pianist's recent "Tango and All That Jazz" CD, invited guest Stefon Harris adds his vibraphone to the mix.
This blog entry posted by Scott Albin.