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CD Review: Manny Bobenrieth Ensemble

released: 2000
Order from: The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Online Gift Store

Manny Bobenrieth, accordion
Chuck Redd, vibes and percussion
Kathleen Burchedean, piano
Chuck Underwood, guitar
Bruno Nasta, violin
Tom Fowler, bass
  1. Invierno Porteno
  2. Verano Porteno
  3. I Love You Samantha
  4. La Muerte del Angel
  5. Contrabajissimo
  6. Milonga del Angel
  7. Fugata
  8. Zingaro
  9. Chovendo Na Roseira
  10. Soledad
  11. Michelangelo 70
  12. Tangata

Review by James P. O'Brien:

Invierno Porteno (6:38)
The opening cut commences with a lilting melody accompanied by a subtle tango rhythm that quickly accelerates into a cadenza-like passage on piano, setting the format for most of the variations that occur on this tune by Astor Piazzolla. Although the entire ensemble is involved, the melody is generally carried by the piano with violin obbligato, or by the violin itself. Only near the end is the accordion featured on the melody with some harsh, sul ponticello tones by the fiddle.The gentleness of the theme is contrasted with harsher, even somewhat brutal, sections. Nonetheless, this is a thoughtful and sensitive styling which is reminiscent of the Paul Winter consort in its tight ensemble. I found this selection haunting and it came into my consciousness several times during my day without any reason, a nice intuitive recall of its memorability.
Verano Porteno (5:50)
Terraced dynamics open this cut with thick and dissonant chords on accordion. A nice interplay of all instruments follows, led by the accordion. Harmony is rich and dense throughout. In the slower section, the accordion carries a languid melody, followed by the violin while first the accordion then the piano provides counterpoint. Percussive effects a reproduced midway while the melody becomes ever more intricate through Latin syncopations. There is a nice interchange among violin, piano and accordion, but the vibes seems somewhat an intrusion, an effect for effect's sake rather than enhancing the musical value.
I Love You Samantha (4:41)
This Cole Porter melody is initially presented by piano and accordion, passing without fumbling to the violin and providing a tasteful third-stream jazz effect with the underlying accompaniment. This was a favorite cut for me, subtle and classy with some sensitive musical styling.
La Muerte del Angel (2:54)
Four-part invention? Four-part contention? Whatever, very nice contrapuntal writing in the opening with some brilliant accordion playing that demonstrates Bobenrieth's solid technique and subtle shadings of dynamics. Ensemble between piano and accordion is particularly noteworthy. This is a spirited and daring cut and is very exciting to hear.
Contrabajissimo (12:35)
A slow introduction onbass, interspersed with chords on the accordion opens this selection. Plaintive and melancholic, using some pizzicato, it is dirge-like, leaving lots of musical space, like huge windows. A brief call-response section with the accordion follows which suggests this is not all that serious, but that this is definitely the bassist's cut. An ensuing march-like section seems more jovial if somewhat ominous. Musical activity picks up, but the accordion takes back the tempo midway, evolving into a simple and tender tune, which seems somewhat incongruous with the opening, even though the section with harmony traversing the circle of fifths is nice (but not particularly relevant). Near the end, there is a return to the more vigorous march-like setting, militant and insistent. Piano technique is particularly noteworthy here. Then the simple melody returns, this time on the fiddle, then the bass.A spirited section follows, quite march-like once again. This was not a favorite cut for me. It does lots of things, many of which are nice and quite musical, but there is too much variety without any central unifying feature. (Program? None provided to indicate this is telling a story.) So it is a musical quilt, interesting sonically, but perhaps not aesthetically.
Milonga del Angel (5:57)
The accordion generally carries the lead while violin provides obbligato. This was another favorite because it is so laid-back and subtle, with marvelous simplicity between the gentle melody, rhythmic accompaniment and counter-melody. No change in tempo, no shock in dynamics, choice extended chords of sophistication, an invitation to just mellow out as you listen. This type of unity is very nice, providing prolonged interest. Even the vibes seemed appropriate and integrated to this musical treat. I was reminded of a small mobile hanging in a gentle breeze, slightly altered each time I looked but unified nonetheless. No cafeteria here.
Fugata (2:37)
This little fugue begins with accordion, then violin,guitar on the subject, and finally piano. Everyone gets his or her turn in the contrapuntal interplay, which is somewhat reminiscent of Claude Bolling's fusion jazz. Tempo is brisk and execution crisp throughout, making this a spirited and exciting interpretation.
Zingaro (3:31)
Noble and pompous in introduction, the vibes and piano accompaniment provide sensual styling in this laid-back cut which interweaves an accordion melody as well. This is sophisticated and tasteful playing. I particularly enjoyed the understatement here.
Chovendo NaRoseira (3:49)
Shades of Errol Garner! The ensemble between piano and accordion is particularly pronounced here, but the interplay of all instruments is tight with everyone in the ensemble getting a turn. This is not a solo accordion CD, but integrates everyone in chamber style. There are wonderful riffs from the piano and vibes in this selection, but the gentle passing of the theme among instruments is like a well-orchestrated game of volleyball (sans spikes!).
Soledad (7:30)
This is another tango, introduced by bass and piano with chords lush and provocative, soon taken over by accordion. Tasteful and sensitive, this selection offers nothing new to the album but reinforces the style, which is quite universal throughout the recording. The vibraphone offers a misty rendition of the melody after the accordion, followed by a guitar section senza battuta, and then violin a battuta. A majestic climax occurs when all instruments join in a crescendo, which is concluded by an accordion section and a pseudo-cadenza alla the vibes. This cut is controlled and mellow, with everyone contributing to the product democratically.
Michelangelo 70 (2:39)
Syncopation is rampant here,creating great energy and excitement, particularly with lightning-like jabs from the violin. I liked the Bartok-like percussive nature, rhythmically intricate but musically exciting(daring?) and precise.
Tangata (10:14)
The accordion opens this minor selection with bass accompaniment, creating a neo-baroque effect, particularly with the tasteful accordion ornamentation on the melodic line. When the strings join, it is much like a trio sonata but the guitar brings us back to contemporary times, with a recitative-like section, and the assertion of the piano leaves us no doubt of the times in which we're living and listening. The tempo suddenly shifts in middle with percussive unison lines. There is another shift to a slow, senza battuta section, perhaps creating too much variety formy taste, which is confirmed, by the vibes' section. This seems to be a tendency in all the longer cuts: a real panorama of tempi and musical effects. I much prefer the shorter cuts where a solid focus, be it clear theme or mood prevails. This is a reviewer preference since I like my art to be focused and significance.

Summary: This is a compelling CD and it breathes of quality. The artists have worked diligently to assemble their musical offering and faithfully rehearsed and recorded them. As a result, the album displays fine musicianship and excellent technique. As I have already stated, I prefer the shorter selections where there is less reliance on additive form, but rather, precise and consistent presentation of a musical idea, generally a melody. In the longer cuts, I felt there was more variety of tone color, tempi and dynamics (how many crescendi throughout this album) than was really necessary. This is an expression of preference, not of value, however. All selections were composed by Astor Piazzolla, with the exception of I Love you Samantha (Cole Porter) as well as Zingaro and Chovendo Na Roseira (Antonio Carlos Jobim). The cover design is exquisite and the inner material is interesting, relevant yet brief. I liked the three pictures of Manny Bobenrieth, the accordionist, each in a different costume: now in all black, now in jeans, and now in T-shirt with shades (the best). Co-ool! However, given the chamber nature of all selections, a group picture on the cover would have been highly appropriate. The solo pictures suggest this is a solo accordion gig, but it really isn't. But anyway, nicely done and significant.

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