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AVAILABILITY Quartet San Francisco

Cachita [2:42]
Milongueando en el cuarenta [2:54]
Jeremy COHEN
Crowdambo (c. 2004) [4:16]
A los amigos (To the friends) [4:53]
Felicia [2:40]
Felipe, for string quartet [4:59]
Gerardo H. Matos RODRIGUEZ (1897-1948)
La Cumparsita (1917) [4:18]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Melodía en La menor [4:41]
Libertango [2:30]
Chick COREA (b. 1941)
Armando's Rhumba [3:23]
Carlos GARDEL (1890-1935)
El día que me quieras [4:41]
Mariano MORES
Taquito militar [4:00]
Eduardo AROLAS
Comme Il faut (Exactly as it should be) [2:39]
Agustín BARDI (1884-1941)
Gallo ciego (Blinded rooster) [4:06]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918–1990)
Cool, from musical West Side Story (1957) arranged by David Balakrishnan [4:31]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Nuevo Tango [5:32]
Quartet San Francisco: (Jeremy Cohen (violin); Kayo Miki (violin); Emily Onderdonk (viola); Joel Cohen (cello))
John Santos, percussion (tracks 1, 3, 10)
rec. 22-25 August 2005, Sound Studio, Skywalker Ranch, Nicasio, California. DDD

Látigo the tango and jazz infused release from the Quartet San Francisco, joined by Latin percussionist John Santos, was honoured with double 2007 Grammy nominations for best ‘Classical Crossover Album’ and ‘Best Engineered, Classical CD’. The title Látigo derives its name from the Spanish for ‘whip’ which is a term according to Webster’s dictionary (1913) that describes a, “performance technique used in tango music; quick slide or glissando of a left-hand finger on a stringed instrument for the purpose of simulating the sound of a whip.”
The Quartet San Francisco was founded in 2001 by the noted jazz and classical violinist Jeremy Cohen; violist Emily Onderdonk and cellist Joel Cohen. Violinist Kayo Miki joined the ensemble in 2004 and Latin percussionist John Santos performed on three of the tracks. Incidentally all the arrangements are by Jeremy Cohen except Felipe and Cool.
The players are united by the common objective of performing and presenting multiple styles of music that range from tango to jazz and classical to contemporary world music. Examples of their versatility include the ongoing collaboration from 2002 with tango dancers Sandor and Parissa and in 2003 sharing the stage with flutist Hubert Laws and composer/pianist Billy Childs at the ‘Jazz on the Hill’ summer festival at San Mateo in California. In 2004 the quartet were the recipients of both the ‘Special Prize’ and the ‘Grand Prize’ at the New York City International Tango Competition.

In their programmes the Quartet San Francisco perform an eclectic range of music from Beethoven to Brubeck, Mozart to Mingus and Brubeck to Piazzolla. As this release demonstrates the group have a special and long-standing devotion to the mysterious and seductive world of the tango, a style that has been enjoying a major international renaissance. Their security of ensemble feels near perfect and these superb performances brim over with excitement; passion and enthusiasm. The recorded sound is of demonstration quality, yet the booklet notes are not to the same standard; rather letting down the presentation. One has to access the website of the Quartet San Francisco to obtain liner-notes to the sixteen scores; a blatant ploy to encourage the listener to visit their site. The notes are on the Quartet's website.
The image of the tango that is so often depicted is that of the music of the dance so unashamedly sensual in character which epitomises the glamour and elegance of high society women wearing glittering cocktail dresses and men wearing tailcoats and bow ties. In reality the tango is most likely to have evolved among society’s underclass in the seedy bordellos of the Argentinean seaports Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
The opening score is Cachita a rhumba by Rafael Hernandez, the Puerto Rican composer, singer and actor. This turns out to be a Django-Grappelliesque stomp, infused with colourful percussion. A bandoneónist, composer and very successful bandleader, Armando Pontier’s Milongueando en el cuarenta is a lively tango, evocative of the elegance of the soft-cushioned drawing room, contrasted with a madcap humour. Jeremy Cohen wrote Crowdambo, “as an homage to my teacher and mentor, Anne Crowden, who passed away in 2004”. Crowdambo is an exciting cocktail of many exotic, mainly mambo rhythms.

A los amigos (To the friends) by Armando Pontier is a gently smouldering score with episodes of high drama. Uruguayan-born Enrique Saborido moved to Buenos Aires, developing a career as a violinist, pianist, composer and a dance instructor. Saborido’s Felicia is a witty and rumbustious tango and is certainly one of my favourite tracks. Jazz violinist and composer, Evan Price of the Turtle Island String Quartet composed Felipe especially for the Quartet San Francisco. Full of good humour and Grappelliesque frolics Felipe proves to be great success. Composed by Gerardo Matos Rodriguez in 1917 La Cumparsita has become one of the most famous and treasured tango scores in the repertoire. In this excellent performance La Cumparsita infuses persuasive moodiness with archetypal tango rhythms.
Piazzolla and the word ‘tango’ are synonymous as he based virtually all his works on the genre, achieving towering artistic heights and great critical acclaim. Piazzolla was the greatest nuevo tango composer and was also an eminent bandoneónist. The finely-crafted score Melodía en La menor, a Piazzolla masterwork, conveys a rather untypical, gently unhurried and reflective mood. The Libertango is one of Astor Piazzolla’s most popular scores. It contains a relentless driving rhythm, being raunchy and sultry, evoking the exotic colour of the tango.
Chick Corea’s popular Armando’s Rhumba is playful and compelling; eminently suited to this arrangement for string quartet and percussion. Carlos Gardel’s El día que me quieras was the score that the Quartet San Francisco performed to lift the grand prize in the final of the 2004 Tango Competition in New York. El día que me quieras is a tango classic performed here as a tender and yearning love letter in music.
Taquito militar a restless and jumpy tango score was written by Mariano Mores, the Buenos Aires=born pianist, bandleader and composer. Comme il faut (Exactly as it should be) was composed by Eduardo Arolas who was known as ‘El Tigre del bandoneón’ (The Tiger of the bandoneón). It is a highly appealing tango, robust, gritty and highly rhythmic. Agustín Bardi’s Gallo ciego (Blinded rooster) represents the story of the blinded survivor of a cock fight. The performance of Gallo ciego emanates misplaced confidence with an underlying feeling of apprehension.
Jazz violinist and composer David Balakrishnan, the founder of the Turtle Island String Quartet, arranged Cool for string quartet from Leonard Bernstein’s 1957 musical West Side Story. In this excellent interpretation Cool is a rugged and confident, foot-tapping jazzy romp. The final work on the release is Astor Piazzolla’s Nuevo Tango. A dramatic masterwork that is in this passionate performance abundant with fire and brimstone.
Although I not do not subscribe to the view that tango music has to be exclusively performed by Argentinean or Latin-American performers. I do, however, generally favour an ensemble that employ a bandoneón; an instrument that Piazzolla played so expertly. Over the last couple of years I have come across two releases, of chiefly Piazzolla scores, that I can highly recommend to those wishing to explore twentieth-century tango music. Although using an accordion rather than a bandoneón the prize-winning duo of Milla Viljamaa and pianist Johanna Juhola have arranged and perform twelve mainly Piazzolla tango scores. Recorded in 2003 at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki on Finlandia Records 2564-60268-2, this most remarkable release titled Piazzolla Passage has caused considerable excitement when I have played selections at Recorded Music Societies. In addition the ensemble Tango Dorado, under the direction of bandoneón player Christian van Hemert, perform twenty-three tango scores; that includes ten from Piazzolla. The double set on Brilliant Classics 6933 was recorded in 2004 both at The Hague and also in Amsterdam.
On this double Grammy nominated release the Quartet San Francisco are on magnificent form with these exciting and colourful scores.
Michael Cookson




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