Date of Release Sep 1987
This powerful concert was recorded live in New York City on September 6, 1987. Piazzolla was playing with his best ensemble: a quintet consisting of himself on the bandoneon (the oversized German accordion used in Argentinian tango), Pablo Ziegler on piano, Fernando Suarez Paz on violin, Horacio Malvicino on electric guitar, and Hector Console on bass. Piazzolla plays some of his finest material - about half of Tango: Zero Hour surfaces, for example. Two of the most paradigmatic Piazzolla pieces show up too: "La Camorra" with its alternating moments of tense dance-rhythms and creepy atmosphere, and "Verano Porteсo," with its dancing bear rhythms. The concert closes with "Concierto para Quinteto," one of those long pieces that Piazzolla favored which visits many styles and moods - almost many eras. It would be very easy to lose the thread on such an epic composition in live performance, but the quintet keeps it together admirably. The recording is surprisingly good for live; there is an appropriate echo and the balance is nearly perfect. The audience is completely unobtrusive - inaudible except when they applaud. And the instruments are very clear, especially when the musicians coax those "zings" and "pops" out of them that Piazzolla loved. For someone new to his work, the "special effects" on this recording can be a revelation. There is also a wonderful spoken track by Piazzolla where he tells us about himself, tango, and the mysterious bandoneon. This album is a wonderful place to start - or finish - with this charismatic composer of New Tango music.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
1954 Astor Piazzolla, like many brilliant young musicians of our century, had migrated to Paris to study with the world-famous Nadia Boulanger. His tangos having been reject-ed as "too radical" and "too serious" by Argentine colleagues, he was attempting to find another outlet for his creative energies in writing European-style art music-only to encounter more frustration. "Throw it away. This is no good. I can't find Piazzolla in this classical concert music.' She wanted to know what I really did in life for a living. I was very much ashamed to tell her that I played tango, and above all I wouldn't dare to say to Nadia, 'I play the bandoneon.'... [but] she wanted to know about my tangos, and she took my two hands together and she said, This is Astor Piazzolla. Don't ever leave it."
Piazzolla took Boulanger's wise counsel to heart, and ended up making musical history with his nuevo tango, an intriguing synthesis of the diverse musical styles he had grown up with. The records of traditional tango which his father had wept over. The Bach fugues and Gershwin tunes he had learned to play on his infernally difficult, accordion-like instrument, bought as a birthday present in a Brooklyn pawnshop. The Bartok and Stravinsky scores he had pored over in the bandrooms of Buenos Aires cabarets. All thoroughly assimilated, firing his imagination and giving him the determination to persist until his music had captured the hearts of music lovers of all kinds, in his native Argentina and around the world.
1987. Piazzolla's classic quintet takes the stage in New York's Central Park and dazzles and delights its audience, which itself included a number of musical celebrities. Carlos Franzetti, the noted Argentine composer/pianist (and co-leader of Chesky artist Orquesta Nova), recalls the experience.
"I had heard Piazzolla perform live many times, but I felt this concert was particularly inspired. My reaction was confirmed several days later when I happened to run into Gil Evans, who told me, 'I just saw one of the most incredible concerts of my life - Astor Piazzolla in Central Park.' The players knew they were performing for Gil and many other world class musicians in this great musical Mecca which is New York City, and I'm sure this knowledge inspired them and helped bring out wonderful new things in their music. Little did we know that Piazzolla would disband this group just a few months later, and would never again perform in the quintet formation which he had spent most of his life perfecting."
A very special musical moment for those fortunate enough to have attended, but for the rest of us, just another of life's many missed opportunities. That is, until a digital recording of the concert was brought by Bob Katz to the attention of David Chesky, who immediately recognized its significance and was able to secure permission from Piazzolla's estate to release it. States Chesky.
"Because we at Chesky believe that the music itself is paramount, there come times when we feel obliged to release recordings of special historical importance. This one is a case in point. In addition to the especially wonderful performance by this classic ensemble, we also get to hear the master himself speaking to the audience - in three languages, no less! The original digital tapes, already sonically far superior to the group's other recordings, have been painstakingly re-edited and re-mastered to reproduce as nearly as possible the original performance."
For this concert, Piazzolla chose a representative selection of his considerable repertoire, ranging from a new love song dedicated to his wife Laura (nicknamed Mumuki) to the frequently recorded classic Adios Nonino (notice the applause as the audience recognizes the theme). Even two such different pieces as these, however, are clearly products of the same powerful musical personality, obsessed with the traditional tango of Buenos Aires. This is obvious in the melodic preeminence of the bandoneon and violin, the ubiquitous tango rhythm which is by turns explicitly stated and subtly implied, and the give-and-take of high drama and heart-on-the-sleeve sentiment.
Yet Piazzolla had grown up in the musical maelstrom of New York City, where in that time one could hear performances of every kind of music except tango; in fact, Gardel called him to record because he was simply the only bandoneonista in New York. Furthermore, Piazzolla's compositional technique had ripened in Paris under the strict tutelage of a colleague of Stravinsky ana Ravel. Thus it is little wonder that he uses harmonies which his predecessors (and many or his contemporaries), accustomed to predictable major, minor, and diminished chord progressions, considered incomprehensible at best and heretical at worst It is no surprise that he scrapped the squared-off phrase lengths and repetitive structures of the music on his father's albums, ending up with forms which sound completely intuitive but are actually so difficult that the composer is reported to have said, "if anybody gets lost, he'll have to meet the rest of us at the coda." And it is entirely understandable that in order to allow for freedom and spontaneity in performance, he reduced the size of his group to five from the usual twelve.
Important though these skills may be, the mere ability to assimilate and synthesize diverse musical traditions does not a great composer make. It is Piazzolla's unique approach to each composition which makes it possible for us to listen to an entire program of tango without tiring. For example, consider the way he juxtaposes the sinuous, syncopated fugue of Muerte del Angel with his own brilliant improvisation on its sentimental second theme, reminiscent of a Ravel or Milhaud. Lunfardo, on the other hand, is almost Ellingtonian in the way it builds by adding layers over a repetitive bass pattern, in its clever modulation to the romantic middle section, and in its wild percussion effects and polychordal piano improvisation at the end. In La Camorra (Argentine slang for "gang fight" or "rumble"), a simple tango riff insistently returns, rondo-style, amidst a series of bold rhythmic and harmonic variations culminating in an aggressive extended coda. Michelangelo was conceived as a compositional exercise, to see how much mileage Piazzolla could get out of a three-note melodic motif - the result is a fitting tribute to the Buenos Aires club it is named after.
Like Ellington, Piazzolla had the good fortune to attract a group of brilliant players devoted to his music, whose talents he learned to make full use of over the many years of their association. As Franzetti has noted above, Piazzolla performed with quintets for most of his career; the five musicians heard here, all Argentine, had been playing together for ten years without a change. Electric guitarist Horacio Malvicino had originally joined the quintet in 1959, leaving the group for a lengthy stint as arranger and composer for Argentine television before his return to take part in this last Piazzolla group. His strong jazz background is particularly evident here in the solo introduction to Mumuki. Pablo Zigler, in contrast, came into the group with limited jazz experience, though his brilliant pianism, honed on the classics, is obvious throughout. Perhaps it was this very lack of jazz technique which forced him to develop an original style of improvisation synthesizing the rhythmic-harmonic vocabulary of tango with the spontaneity of jazz - a style perfectly suited to the music in question, as witness his solo near the end of Lunfardo.
Violinist Fernando Suarez Paz shared Zigler's extensive classical training, and was an important member of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, yet, like Piazzolla himself, was heavily influenced by non-classical traditions in developing his own approach. The hot-blooded passion of gypsy music and the no-holds-barred experimental mentality of the avant-garde combined with conservatory precision in a way so uniquely appropriate to the composer's style that Piazzolla only used one other violinist in his entire career as leader. Rounding out the group was bassist Hector Console, whose solo introduction in Contra-Bajissmo attests to his great skill and musical-ity. Still, the bandoneon and violin were the principal soloists in the quintet, so the bass' role was primarily supportive. It was here that Console's impeccable time and propulsive marcato attack with the bow (often in unison with the piano's left hand) were essential, providing the rhythmic anchor beneath the soloists' virtuosic flights of fancy and the group's almost tele-phathic rubati and tempo changes.
Directing these four was the bandoneon of Piazzolla himself - asserting, elaborating, cajoling and crooning in a way only possible for this instrument with a "surrealistic life." A life mirroring the self-acknowledgea surrealism of the life of the man playing it - a man who nonetheless succeeded in identifying and speaking to the reality within everyone who heard his music. In this album we can hear Piazzolla talking about the tango, explaining, "like jazz in New Orleans it wasn't very clean at the beginning. Today it's supposed to be clean because this is clean - people, free music, and love." It is to this tango that Piazzolla dedicated his life, and it is for it that, we owe him our gratitude.