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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival

Milan Records 399-149-2 



1. Lunfardo
2. Muerte del Angel
3. Resurrección del Angel
4. Tristeza de un Doble A
5. Adiós Nonino
6. Chin Chin
7. Otoño Porteño
Astor Piazzolla – Bandoneón
Pablo Ziegler – Piano
Fernando Suárez Paz – Violin
Oscar López Ruiz – Electric guitar
Héctor Console – Double bass 

A few days ago I reviewed the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's Kaleidoscope performance, subtitled "Latin American Nights" and including Piazzolla's Concerto for Orchestra and Bandoneón. I felt drawn in that review to refer to the performance of the Latin genre as 'ferocious' and when considering this particular review, I again find myself back there, not only for its self-reflexive sound (Say it out loud. Ferocious - it sounds like the wind roaring!) but for the way that it indicates not only a constant passion, but also a biting impact. The same passion an actor draws upon when shouting 'Mambo' in Bernstein's West Side Story. The passion of bebop in a club, cranked to a level where the beginnings of the notes burn a little. Piazzolla's music hits you hard, no matter which way you look at it. This is one of the many reasons he is affectionately referred to as The Great Astor in his home country. He is the heart of the new tango, especially from an outside/European perspective. 

To be slightly unorthodox, I would like to start with the penultimate piece, Chin Chin, and then move to the piece right before that, Adios Nonino. The reason behind this is because they are the standout performances on this album. Not purely for technical reasons, but because of the way they encapsulate both the elements of live improvised jazz and the tango traditions Piazzolla comes from. The other tracks may be perhaps seen as supporting members of a cast of free-roaming beasts. 

Chin Chin illustrates the idea of ferocity, especially in a small ensemble sense, showing that it is not sheer polyphony which draws me towards this adjective, but that it is, instead, the nature of the piece itself and how it fits into the genre. The performance begins with a few bars of the fragmentary bandoneón melody before being joined by sporadic percussion, piano glissandos, incensed electric guitar and atonal violin slides. It plays itself out in true jazz form, with the instruments given space to solo amongst the seemingly haphazard accompaniment and then brought back into the recapitulating head. The ferocious nature of the piece that I refer to is best reflected in the open piano solo which drifts further and further away from the ensemble, growing in intensity and beautiful chaos. Pablo Ziegler’s performance is inspiring and obviously inspired, his inventions never seem old or retired, constantly shifting and thickening into an intimidating cacophony. Then suddenly, with ease, he brings back the tango rhythms, precise and full of intention to round out the piece. Piazzolla’s greatest strength in this piece is his ability to showcase another musician. The melody begins with a bandoneón focus and grows from that, but the chaos draws us towards the piano. A brilliant performance and a nice departure from the traditional quintet showcase. 

Adios Nonino is partly well known for the history behind its composition. The story goes that Piazzolla heard of his father's passing and retreated to his room in silence. After half an hour, from within the room came the melancholy melody which Adios Nonino begins with. But do not mistake this story for one that leads to a simple or pure nostalgia. This performance in particular begins with an open piano solo by Ziegler, which at times verges on the melancholy, but it is far from simple. Rather, it draws upon Piazzolla's melody, adding beautiful and grandiose ornamentation. After almost two and a half minutes, Piazzolla enters on the bandoneón playing the opening line to the melody, cleverly composed to finish unresolved. As he holds the final note, the suspense builds, holding steady and waiting for the resolution. But where melancholy would ordinarily take over to pour out the grief Piazzolla must've felt after his father died, the strings enter: heavy and raucous. A heavy calculated stumbling that drives forward only to hit you with yet another melancholy melody, this time on solo violin. Perhaps this is truly what Piazzolla wanted to hint at with Adios Nonino, the manic nature of mourning and the abrupt coming of death. But the melancholy violin is not alone for long; it finds a communal longing with the bandoneón. This solo section is heart-wrenching; the shrill violin draws you into a brittle grief that swirls and lifts, uncertain but unmistakably emotionally driven. 

The rest of this recording contributes to a collection of Piazzolla’s better known pieces, including Muerte del Angel and Resurrección del Angel. These two pieces act as a nod towards a more traditional arrangement, most probably because of the nature of their composition, as part of Piazzolla’s ‘Angel Suite.’ Muerte del Angel (Death of the Angel) takes on the sound of a traditional tango and the heavy rhythmic motifs that are associated with the genre, while Resurrecion del Angel (Resurrection of the Angel) allows for yet another solo exploration, this time by Fernando Suarez Paz on violin. Also, this is possibly one of the few pieces on the album that explores the smooth chordal possibilities of the bandoneón. 

This performance recording is a wonderful introduction to the work of Astor Piazzolla and the nuevo tango. The recording itself is of an extremely high quality, retains the atmosphere of a live performance and the dynamic nuances that such a situation brings forth. Not only was Piazzolla in fine form, his quintet exceeds all expectations; they are rhythmically and stylistically ‘in tune’ with the genre and Piazzolla’s composition from beginning to end. Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival is a wonderful addition to the record collection of both jazz and classical fans. 

Sam Webster






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