The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores
CD Review: Various Artists
Tribute to Astor
total time: 66:03
Review by Steve Mobia:
At the time of this writing we are probably at the peak of the Astor Piazzolla craze (though I could be wrong - I thought Rap would have died out by the end of the 1980s). Not only are there many recordings of Astor himself, but also music influenced by Piazzolla or Tango in general. My favorite in this genre is Stefan Hussong's Tango Fantasy, an album which has some truly original takeoffs.
The current CD under review ranges from the delightful to the dreadful and tends to focus on Piazzolla's lyrical, sentimental side. The tracks were pulled from many sources and performers under greatly varying recording conditions. From this patchwork flows music which for the most part does have Astor's imprint on it. One can question the artistic value of such blatant imitation by non-Argentinean composers (although most here are Italian). Why not just play the real thing? I'll leave that for listeners to decide.
I often have a hard time distinguishing a bandoneon from an accordion except when extreme ranges are played or the accordion is using it's "master" switch (too many reeds are playing for it to be a bandoneon). The Bandoneon is a "free bass" instrument and does not use the pre-set chords of a standard accordion. Certain percussive accents are far more pronounced on a bandoneon due to it's bellows structure, smaller size and playing technique. The reeds of most older bandoneons are mounted on single plates which give the sound a certain purity and edge often missing from accordions. Despite these distinctions, there are times when I can't tell which of the included tracks on this album use bandoneons and which use accordions (some use neither). I can guess but that's all.
A lively and inspired Hommage a Piazzolla written by Torben Maiwald starts things off with some energetic expectant motives that suggest Bartok as much as Piazzolla.
Fabian Tedesco's languid and sensual L'aquilone follows with a strongly inflected theme for bandoneon against a haunting background of vibes, piano and strings. Many, I'm sure, will find this a beautiful statement. It could have been written by Astor himself.
From the sublime to the ridiculous we have the worst entry of the collection. Tony De Rosas' synthepop Balada para vos is completely out of place here with it's cloying "light jazz" lead sax and synthetic repetitive backgrounds (although the surprising dissonant middle section offers some interest). It also has nothing to do with tango or Piazzolla.
Not so with Tango fatal by Carlos Franzetti which is firmly in the Piazzolla mold. It's brief and poignant but perhaps too unoriginal.
Aldemaro Romero follows with a charming if sentimental Serenata featuring lyrical soprano sax work supported by a slow lilting rhythm.
A simulated 78 vinyl recording (complete with artificial surface noise and distortion), Notturno by Arnaldo Ciato is the epitome of nostalgia with its achingly bittersweet theme that perfectly evokes unretrievable interiors.
Traningo is an energetic contrast by accordion duo Maritta and Ari Matti Saira. Very true to Piazzolla's work in detail though the two accordions give a fuller weighty quality to the music. Some very nice playing here.
An unusual pairing of trumpet and violin mark Nikos Xanthoulis' Euphonia.
Thick melancholy synthesizers and a sampled bandoneon underscore the changing moods and tempos of Estravagario by Athos Bassissi. It doesn't really hold together but has a couple of effective sections.
The lovely transparent clarinet playing on Guido Arbonelli's Thank, Astor is often haunting though the piano accompaniment could have been more creatively written, particularly in the second theme.
Fugheria is a piece utilizing Piazzolla's favorite technique of the descending ground bass, tightly composed and performed on bandoneon by Marco Fabbri. It explores the classical baroque sources of much of Piazzolla's music.
The late Michael Ganian is represented by a full blown orchestral tune Verucchio which sounds like a torrid movie soundtrack for a mid-60s European love epic. No accordion however.
Piazzolla's jazz influence is felt in Astor nel ciel, particularly in the sax solo. The parts fit very well together here.
The Quartetto Gente de Nuevos Aires gives some of the tango riffs a modern sheen with quick clean electric guitar and punchy drum and bass. The slow echoing central section highlights the accordion.
The Milonga Quintet concludes with a short piece by Paolo Picchio which leads directly to Piazzolla's own ever popular Libertango handled briskly on accordions.
As a whole, the album is a fitting tribute to the man who wrote simple plaintive melodies and often sauced them up with a string section. Though not very adventuresome, the assortment here is often lovely, stirring and mostly well played.
The CD itself however seems less than professionally put together. There was little attempt to balance the volumes from one track to the next and there is at least one very choppy ending. The liner notes are all in Italian so find a translator if you want to know about the performers.
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