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


Roger Davidson: Si Loin de Toi

The versatile Davidson's third album of tangos is the first to feature exclusively his own compositions. It also reunites him with world-class bandoneonist Raul Jaurena, who appeared on Davidson's 1995 Mango Tango. The tangos heard here will probably appeal a bit more to tango traditionalists than to those listeners who favor Astor Piazzolla's more intense "nuevo tango" approach, given their controlled lyricism and refined emotional impact.

"Si Loin de Toi" is the only one of the CD's 18 tracks without a Spanish title (Davidson was born in Paris, but raised in the U.S.), and is described as "a tune about longing for someone you love who is very far away." It is also the longest and one of the most striking performances on the recording. Davidson begins with ominous chords that are soon replaced by the wistfully yearning melody, supported by Jaurena's concordant long tones. Davidson's glowing sound enriches the beautiful theme. Jaurena then takes the lead, playing with great feeling and subtle craftsmanship as he evokes the master Piazzolla himself. The twosome then join together to intimately harmonize the theme, while also individually embellishing certain phrases.

March 27, 2009 · 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


Tango Argentina (Original Cast Recording) La Cumparsita

Broadway is not where one usually hunts out authentic World Music. But the hit 1980s show Tango Argentina stayed true to the traditions of Buenos Aires' great gift to the world, and showed (once again) the fluidity with which the tango adapts to different settings and audiences. Here the directors resurrected perhaps the most famous tango of the early days, Gerardo Matos Rodriguez's "La Cumparsita." The composer sold the rights to this song for a mere twenty pesos (although he later mounted a successful legal battle to secure royalties). In truth, everyone fought over this song, with Uruguayans and Argentines claiming it as their own, and a host of leading tango artists trying to put their stamp on it. You are encouraged to check out versions by Firpo, Gardel, Lamarque and others. The song captures the high drama of tango from the glory days‚ÄĒa power that is not diminished when transferred to a Broadway stage.

July 18, 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


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


Gotan Project: Chunga's Revenge

You know tango has arrived in the postmodern age when the bandoneůn player starts up Frank Zappa's "Chunga's Revenge." Sacrilege? The fans don't think so. Paris-based Gotan Project has been the biggest-selling tango act of the new millennium, and the band has brought its iconoclastic music to enthusiastic audiences everywhere from Tokyo to Tel Aviv. After listening to Gotan Project, it's hard to remember why tango purists got so worked up about Astor Piazzolla. This band long ago went outside the gravitational pull of Carlos Gardel and AnŪbal Troilo, crafting a new tango sound that is consciously looking beyond the tradition for different sources of inspiration. Gotan Project is especially skilled at crafting chill-out music with a piquant Argentinean flavor. So long, Buenos Aires, welcome World Fusion!

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


The Tango Project: Por Una Cabeza

Okay, they aren't Argentinean . . . but then again, neither was Uruguayan Carlos Gardel, the tango legend who composed and popularized this song. Yet this group is one of the most widely heard tango ensembles of recent decades. This is the band and song that Al Pacino dances to in a famous scene in Scent of a Woman. And the future governor of California strutted his stuff with Jamie Lee Curtis to this same version of "Por Una Cabeza" in True Lies. In short, here is elegant parlor-room tango with just the right touch of sensuality.

But don't get too caught up in the romantic mood. If you hear the words to this song (not included in this instrumental version), you will find that it is about a horse race lost by a head (hence the title). Yes, a woman does show up too -- but I put my money on the horse. Tango fans are encouraged to find and compare the great Gardel recording.

June 27, 2008 · 1 comment


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


Roberto Goyeneche: Buenos Aires Conoce

Roberto Goyeneche's distinctive singing captures perfectly the louche and bohemian ambiance of 1950s-era tango, evoking a lifestyle even more than a musical genre. Then again, it's a bit of a stretch to call this singing . . . Goyeneche's performances linger at the halfway point between vocals and declamation, sounding more like a spirited exhortation to true believers. He cuts off his phrases, rolls his consonants, and never really settles into the melody -- almost the antithesis of the great Carlos Gardel. Goyeneche's nickname was El Polaco (the Pole), due to his blonde hair, but his mood is pure Argentinean, especially on this wistful track with its celebration of the spirit of Buenos Aires.

June 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Hugo Diaz: Milonga Triste

You may have heard this haunting theme on the soundtrack to the film The Tango Lesson. Diaz eerily evokes the sound of the bandoneón on his harmonica. Yet one can also hear hints of the U.S. harmonica tradition here, and the spirit of what is called the "deep blues" permeates this performance. Blind from the age of five, Diaz moved as a teenager to Buenos Aires, where his music encompassed everything from traditional folk songs to jazz. He met Larry Adler and Toots Thielemans in Europe during the 1950s, and later had the opportunity to play with Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson in the United States. But Diaz did not make a tango recording until 1972, when he shifted from his typical folkloric material to present this remarkable track. His emotional affinity with the tango stands out on "Milonga Triste," and his work in this vein found a receptive audience. Diaz made several more tango recordings -- much cherished by fans although often hard to find -- before his death in 1975.

June 18, 2008 · 0 comments


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