Gato Barbieri: El Sertao

It's a shame that Barbieri, after rediscovering his South American musical roots in the '70's after flirting with the jazz avant-garde the decade earlier, never got to hook up with his fellow Argentinian Astor Piazzolla. The modern concepts and powerful lyricism of both artists might have produced a fruitful collaboration, but when Bernardo Bertolucci chose Barbieri instead of Piazzolla to compose and play the music for his 1973 film Last Tango in Paris (Piazzolla reportedly wanted too high a fee), a verbal feud ensued between Gato and Astor. Be that as it may, the Last Tango soundtrack made Barbieri an international star (at least for a while), enabling him to expose many more listeners to his bracing potion of jazz and Latin melodies, rhythms, harmonies, and textures.

Barbieri's 1973 release, Under Fire, focused on Brazil, and the title of the piece "El Sertao" referred to the dry, poverty-stricken northwestern part of that country. Stanley Clarke's resounding bass ostinato, Lonnie Liston Smith's trills, and John Abercrombie's insistent chords are the first sounds heard, in addition to Airto Moreira's zestful rhythmic colorations. Barbieri plays the multi-faceted thematic material with a hard-edged, virile tone, but is able to convey elements of warmth and tenderness as well. Despite an intense, nearly screeching attack at times, on the whole his phrasing maintains an alluringly melodic consistency of expression. Smith's Fender Rhodes interlude is sparse but tonally poignant. Abercrombie's strummed pattern leads to Barbieri's climactic crescendo and decrescendo. This track is an example of Barbieri stripped of all the turbulent and distancing free jazz affectations he had exhibited but a few years earlier. He had found himself at last.

September 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Gary Burton (with Astor Piazzolla): Mi Refugio

Burton's Astor Piazzolla Reunion CD brought together some of the musicians of the late Piazzolla's Nuevo Tango Quintet who had toured with Burton in 1986, a collaboration preserved on the album New Tango: Suite for Vibraphone and New Tango Quintet, recorded live at that year's Montreux Jazz Festival. The Reunion session ten years later presented lyrical and passionate interpretations of twelve Piazzolla compositions. However, the 13th and last track, "Mi Refugio," is perhaps the most intriguing.

Piazzolla recorded a series of solo bandoneon performances of classic tangos in 1970, released as Original Tangos from Argentina, Vol.1 and Vol. 2" "Mi Refugio" is a beautiful tango first introduced in 1922 by its composer, pianist Juan Carlos CobiŠn, one of the creators of the "tango-romanza" style. Piazzolla's 1970 solo recording of it alternates between melodic exposition and spare harmonic outlining, and so, as Burton said, it was "a duet arrangement waiting to happen." Burton wrote a new intro for himself to play, and he also plays along sensitively with Piazzolla on tape in a way that is both unobtrusive and elevating. The vibraphonist's lyrical, reverent intro delineates the tune's harmonies with much grace and skill. When Piazzolla begins his articulation of the theme, Burton just adds soft chords and arpeggios. Piazzolla's forceful lines mix with more sentimental and/or traditional voicings. As the bandoneonist switches to simply sketching the harmonies of the piece, Burton emerges to construct concise, entirely compatible phrases. The interweaving of the two instruments becomes more and more magical and mesmerizing as it progresses to a stunning denouement.

June 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Torcuato Mariano: Back to the Road

Mariano moved to Brazil from his native Argentina at age 14, and soon became part of the contemporary Brazilian music scene, touring with such artists as Leo Gandelman, Gal Costa, Sergio Mendes, and Ivan Lins in the '80's and '90's. After a detour as A & R director for EMI Brazil, Mariano returned to recording himself, and Back to the Road is his sixth CD as leader. He's an extremely versatile and polished guitarist, proficient playing Latin, rock, blues, or Brazilian jazz, as proven by this diverse session.

The yearning title track is probably the most unfettered performance on the CD, allowing Mariano to let loose aggressively. Colaiuta's propulsive, resonating drum beat makes this piece come alive from the very start. Mariano is channeling a very early influence in his playing here, namely Carlos Santana, as is apparent in his twangy tone and sleekly flowing lines. Calasans' supple B3 chords and Stubenhaus's sturdy bass add to the unwavering foundation over which Mariano sails with genuine feeling. Well-placed brass punctuations enter just before and during the guitarist's blazing solo. A false wind-down ending gives way to Martins' nimble, bluesy tenor solo instead, but this appealing track fades out for real just as Martins is hitting his full stride.

May 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Gabriela Anders: Agua de Beber

So many great singers have recorded Jobim that you have to wonder why his compositions keep getting additional covers. The popular "Agua de Beber" is a prime example: after interpretations by Ella, Sinatra, Charlie Byrd, Al Jarreau, Toninho Horta, and of course Astrud Gilberto (with Jobim), what could possibly remain unstated? Yet this version by the lovely Gabriela Anders deserves attention, if only for the mesmerizing quality of her voice, a pastel palette of blues and greens, applied with the subtle brushstroke of a master impressionist painter.

As befitting the gentle form of the Bossa Nova, Anders allows the melody to beckon through quiet whispers and a soft vocal percussiveness. There is no big event here, no radical new twists other than a subtle cry-baby guitar in the rhythm section. But the result is an inviting waterfall in the midst of a steaming rainforest, with the players providing a polished foundation over which Gabriela's quenching phrases cascade. This is indeed very cool water to drink.

March 19, 2009 · 0 comments


Gabriela Anders: Amapola

Those fortunate enough to have caught Rick Braun and George Duke at the 2008 Montreux Jazz Festival received a bonus: the stunning Gabriela Anders. The rest of us will have to wait for another time to catch her live, and meanwhile must content ourselves with her recordings. Often compared to Sade and Astrud Gilberto, this Argentine native has forged her own identity with four previous albums under her belt, Last Tango in Rio, Latina, Electica and Wanting. But this is her first release devoted solely (or perhaps soul-ly) to the Bossa, which may be the genre she was born to sing.

"Amapola," a timeless Latin classic written in 1924, hasn't always enjoyed such a respectful, soothing treatment. Tommy Dorsey, The Three Tenors, Andrea Bocelli, and incredibly Spike Jones have all recorded their unique versions.

Fortunately, this is a satisfying, simple acoustic guitar-oriented bossa treatment, and works perfectly for the delectable timbre of Anders's intimate, cooling voice. Pianist Helio Aves offers up a simple, airy octave solo in counterpoint to the breathy seductiveness of the vocal lines. The result is hypnotic, not unlike the poppy flower for which the song was named. The same could be said for Gabriela Anders, an amapola in her own right.

March 19, 2009 · 0 comments


AdriŠn Iaies & Michael Zisman: 'Round Midnight

The keyboard-based accordion has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, but we still hardly ever see its cousin, the bandoneůn, on jazz CDs. What a shame. The latter instrument, associated with tango music, has the right personality for jazz. Even at its most romantic, the bandoneůn possesses an acerbic, ironic attitude lurking just below the surface, and this tension between warmth and distance has long been a productive formula for great jazz. Michael Zisman is a young master of the instrument, having taken first place in the bandoneůn category at last year's international accordion competition. Zisman joins AdriŠn Iaies here, and completely transforms "'Round Midnight" from the moment he enters. The interaction between the two players captures the perfect balance between jazz and tango sensibilities. Iaies's solo piano intro takes on a moody cast, but Zisman makes this midnight setting seem positively dangerous. Someone might be lurking around the corner with a knife, and the couple strolling toward you may be lovers or thieves, who can tell? In an ocean of Monkfish covers, this one is a real catch, standing out for its fresh take on a familiar standard.

July 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Emilio Solla: Remain Alert

Argentinean-born Emilio Solla, having grown up abroad and trained classically, now resides in Brooklyn, a mecca for upcoming jazz musicians of many diverse cultural and musical backgrounds. On his wonderfully evocative "Remain Alert," Solla borrows from the tango rhythms of his native country's passionate dance music. His uniquely eclectic but grounded style is strongly influenced by this dance component, as the varied instrumentation of flutes, saxophone, bandoneůn and piano all joyfully prance through this tune with lithe synchronicity. With a nod to Astor Piazzolla and his Tango Nuevo style, Solla creates an engaging piece of music, ably assisted by reedman Gorka Benitez and a flowing rhythm section that astutely accents his every move while maintaining a deft pulse. In the liner notes, Solla comments on the genesis of this tune's title, a post-9/11 sign on a New York City subway beckoning us to "Remain Alert." His arrangement cleverly builds the appropriate tension the title evokes, and Xirgu's drum sequence is particularly worthy. The composition never loses its dance feel. As Solla states on his MySpace page, "I tend to be suspect of musicians that don't danceÖ" Clearly he and his Conversas colleagues have little problem in this area.

July 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Aníbal Troilo: Quejas de Bandoneón

Aníbal Troilo

Troilo was the preeminent bandoneón player of mid-century Argentina. Although he performed with many of the greatest tango singers of the era, his instrumental works rank among his most beloved recordings. Here he demonstrates his incisive bandoneón sound, sharply staccato and slightly anticipating the beat. When Troilo died, his widow gave his bandoneón to Piazzolla, who expressed reluctance to try to make music on the instrument that the master had once played so caressingly. Yet Piazzolla (and others) could not escape so easily the influence of this consummate artist, who was able to balance the sentimentality of the tango with a certain macho energy and assertiveness. This track reflects the intensity of Troilo's musical vision as well as his fastidious care with arrangements and dynamics.

July 18, 2008 · 0 comments


Ada Falcón: Yira Yira

Ada Falcón led one of those dramatic, surprising lives so typical of the great tango artists. Born in 1905. Falcón began performing on stage at age 11, and made her motion picture debut two years later. But her greatest fame would come in her 20s, when she recorded a series of memorable tango songs. This version of "Yira Yira" was recorded a month before Carlos Gardel entered the studio to make his own famous version. Yet Falcón's spirited rendition stands out as a classic statement of disappointment and despair. "Everything is a lie," the singer declares here. Falcón's life would eventually become pervaded with this same sense of disillusionment. After 1942, la joyita Argentina (or "little Argentine jewel'), as she was known, refused to allow her photo to be taken, and she eventually entered a convent where she led a withdrawn, ascetic life. She lived another six decades after her departure from the entertainment world, but her renunciation of a celebrated past has done little to dim the legend of the emotionally charged performer featured on this track.

July 18, 2008 · 0 comments


Gonzalo Bergara: Some of These Days

There's no shortage of Hot Club swing groups covering this antique chestnut of a tune; it's fun to play and audiences never seem to get tired of hearing it. Improvising through these changes with any degree of freshness is quite another matter. From stage left, enter Gonzalo Bergara.

Perhaps this Argentine guitarist, composer and teacher isn't such big news to West Coast jazz Manouche fans, who have had the opportunity to hear him in venues around his current California stomping grounds, but his playing was quite a shock to this East Coaster when I heard him at the 2008 Django in June event in Massachusetts.

Here's the thing: it's not just the chops, which are considerable, or the speed and dexterity of his execution, impressive though it may be. It's the attack Ė rarely have I heard a right-hand technique with more nuance. On "Some of These Days" (the album's only non-original tune), pearlescent lines rapid-fire from the fretboard as if his fingers are kissing each note with lapidary precision, bringing fresh sparkle and polish to a priceless old jewel. Don't miss these kisses.

July 12, 2008 · 0 comments


Astor Piazzolla: Milonga Del Angel

Piazzolla is one of those distinctly modern artists of the late 20th century, who could combine the depths of romanticism with an acerbic sense of irony. His playing possesses both immediacy and distance, passion and a biting indifference, and the tension between these extremes is responsible for much of the power of the music. Perhaps only Sinatra had a surer touch at combining the paradoxical, love and its opposite, into a single song.

But on "Milonga Del Angel," the masks are down, the pretenses put aside, and Piazzolla offers us one of his most direct, heartfelt performances. "This has absolutely been the greatest record I've made in my entire life," Piazzolla commented about the CD, Tango: Zero Hour, where we find this track. Certainly he had reason to be happy with this music. Piazzolla never fronted a finer working band, and it was well seasoned by the time of this project. In particular, pianist Ziegler brings a jazzier sensibility to the quintet, and he clearly inspires the bandleader. Piazzolla also had hopes that this would be the recording that would finally earn him a large audience in the United States, where he had spent much of his youth, but had never received the acclaim he found in other parts of the world.

The recordings from this period brought Piazzolla new admirers, and in 1987 he performed to a sizable crowd in New York's Central Park. Yet Piazzolla's greatest fame would come posthumously. Four years after making this recording, he suffered a debilitating stroke, and in 1992 he died at the age of 71. His passing coincided with a the increasing commercialization of so-called World Music, a trend that has kept his recordings in print and widely heard long after his death. This late-vintage track is one of his finest performances, and a good introduction to a seminal artist.

July 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Gotan Project: Tríptico

How odd that the most popular tango band of the new millennium is a Paris-based ensemble founded by a French DJ. Yet Philippe Cohen Solal, composer of this track and driving force behind Gotan Project, presciently understood that tango could serve as an ingredient in an electrified, groove-oriented world fusion sound. Heck, how many tango bands dare cover a Frank Zappa tune? When the producers of the hit film Shall We Dance looked for a tango for a sensual dance scene featuring Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere, they didn't pick Piazzolla, but rather a sultry number from this band. La Revancha del Tango has sold more than a million copies, and has ushered in a new era of electro-tango, where the programmer is as important as the bandoneón player. Sometimes this band gets too close to background music for my tastes, but this edgy track, the longest performance from the group's debut CD, has a jazzy feel and relentless groove. Will Gotan Project have staying power? The verdict is still out. But no matter what the future holds for this band, tango music will never be the same.

July 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Sandra Luna: Che Bandoneón

While prominent bands such Narcotango are updating the tango sound, Sandra Luna stays true to its traditions. On "Che Bandoneón" she resurrects a song by 1940s tango master Aníbal Troilo, and performs it in a stark, understated arrangement that contrasts markedly with her impassioned vocal work.

This remarkable artist began singing tango at age 11, but did not reach the international market until this release recorded in her mid-30s. Luna was raised in Mataderos, the slaughterhouse and stockyard barrio on the west side of Buenos Aires, and her music is permeated with what Unamuno called "the tragic sense of life." There is no softening irony here, just emotional fervor and a hard-won wisdom.

Listeners looking for easy-listening tango background music are advised to steer clear of this release, which is full of high drama and rhapsodic intensity. But if you want a soul-shaking immersion in tango canción of the modern day, check out this take-no-prisoners artist.

July 03, 2008 · 0 comments


Narcotango: Mejor Asi

Tango continues to evolve in the new millennium, as demonstrated by Carlos Libedinsky's Narcotango, which draws on the rich traditions of the genre while mixing in loops and samples and other digital paraphernalia. Yet the effects are never an end in themselves, and Libedinsky succeeds through an artful combination of diverse elements into a fresh hybrid that both respects the music's heritage while taking it in new directions. He has built a global audience for this music -- half of his CD sales now come outside of Argentina, and Narcotango makes regular overseas tours. Here chill-out ambient sounds cross paths with music for a sensual dance in one of the most intriguing world fusion projects of recent years.

June 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Carlos Gardel: Volver

Three quarters of a century after his death in a plane crash, Carlos Gardel still inspires passion and fanatical devotion among his legions of fans. At the dawn of the recording age, Gardel defined tango as commercial music and was a megastar throughout Latin America. Had he lived longer, he would no doubt have become a household name in the United States, and probably a major Hollywood draw. But this hit-maker was much more than a pop music act -- he was also an artist of the highest rank, a consummate vocalist who counted the great Caruso among his admirers.

"Volver" comes from a historic recording session that produced a half-dozen tango classics, and shows off Gardel's forceful baritone and emotional fervor. What an amazing voice! Yet Gardel delivers more than just belt-it-to-the-back-rows power. He is also the consummate storyteller, drawing the listener into the high drama of his music. Even today, folks in Buenos Aires will say Veinte a√Īos no es nada ("Twenty years is nothing"), drawing on a well-known phrase in this song. Ah, when it comes to the enduring fame of Gardel, "The King of Tango," the fourscore years since his death are nothing. His legacy remains a defining element of tango even in the new millennium.

June 27, 2008 · 0 comments


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