July 4th, 1984. Independence Day for some, Orwell’s year for others, but the place to be was Montréal for Astor Piazzolla’s set at the celebrated jazz festival. Thank goodness cameras and microphones were on hand to capture the Argentinean master and four of his incredibly talented colleagues. Exactly four years later, the gifted composer/performer would leave his admirers in body but never in spirit.
The seven tracks are all interesting in themselves but the obvious showstoppers are “Tristeza de un Doble A” and “Chin Chin.”
In the former, Piazzolla offers a master class in bandoneón technique, musical structure and emotional communication. The opening, a truly seul rhapsody, is driven by the constant push/pull of the marvellously-reedy instrument and the artist’s customary passion and verve. An oh-so-discreet slip to the major mode cues the others to add their voices and walk with their leader. Soon, a spectacular conversation with bitonal flavour begins between Piazzolla and pianist Pablo Ziegler. Ziegler is fortunate to have a Yamaha on this occasion as its brittle, dry tone is the perfect foil to the hand-pumped wind hues emanating so effortlessly from the composer/performer. When it’s his turn, violinist Fernando Suárez Paz draws delectable colours and slides into and out of the stratosphere with style and surety. Lurking in the background (more felt than heard but always “present”) is Oscar López Ruiz’s electric guitar interventions that add to the mix and zap out even more shades when required. Anchoring it all is the stand-up bass magic of Héctor Console. His deliciously-edgy, coarse foundation (it’s all in the bow speed) is especially welcome, giving this ensemble a truly unique sound others can only dream of matching.
“Chin Chin” lifts off like “The Flight of the Button Bee” as Piazzolla burns through the chart with frenzy while Paz “whistles” offbeats with near-reckless abandon. After Ruiz’s moment in the sunshine sets the stage for another solo, Ziegler delivers one of the most engaging, energetic displays of through-composed improvisation yet heard. With the power and technique of Prokofiev in his tool kit, the music erupts unbelievably—repeated-note punch and cascading chords alternating with snippets of tune fill the ear and quicken the pulse. From their cheers, the audience is well aware of the rare moment of excellence that has just come their way.
The pair of movements from Piazzolla’s Angel Suite are remarkably well balanced in sound and structure. “Resurrección” is especially notable for its haunting Rodrigo-evoking theme (slow movement of the guitar concerto) and Paz’s magnificent version of it crying dolefully from his G string.
Yes, as noted by the producers, the cinematography leaves much to be desired, but it’s more than worth having this historical performance in your collection to both see and hear these first-rate artists who remind us just how good music can be. JWR