New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Pedro Giraudo tango quartet

Transcending a Grim Era in New York with Pedro Giraudo’s Tango Quartet at Barbes

Saturday night at Barbes, Pedro Giraudo thanked a small but raptly attentive audience for their bravery in coming out for his show there with his brilliant tango quartet. Pretty much everybody sitting at the bar drifted into the music room when the band started; not a single person in the crowd showed any sign of ill health.

Inevitably, everyone who writes nuevo tango gets compared to Astor Piazzolla, but Giraudo is the rare composer who’s earned that distinction. Over the past few years, his monthly Saturday night Barbes residency has grown to the point that this was an unlikely opportunity to actually be able to get in to see him at the moment the show began.

As intricately intertwining as his songs are, he’s a very terse bass player who’s more interested in melody and texture than flash, fingerpicking as well as bowing a handful of the more darkly luxuriant numbers. Violinist Nick Danielson swooped and dove, plucking out sparks of pizzicato along with stiletto minor-key riffs and contrastingly silky atmosphere in the quieter tunes. Bandoneonist Rodolfo Zanetti exchanged similarly dynamic, sometimes slashing, sometimes gently resonant washes of sound alongside Ahmed Alom, the group’s spectacular pianist, whose rapidfire cascades and nimbly crushing chordal attack were understatedly spectacular to watch. Players who have that kind of raw power and precision to match are hard to find.

There was a lot of Piazzolla in the set, from the vivid, relentlessly leaping shark-fishing scenario Escualo, to a rapturous, moodily drifting take of Milonga Del Angel, to a considerably more biting, kinetic tune. But it was Giraudo’s originals that everybody had come out for. The high point of the night was Impetuoso,a relentlessly suspenseful, turbulently crescendoing depiction that Alom finally brought to a searing, icepicked, percussive peak.

Cicada, complete with wry insectile calls from bandoneon and violin, was a lot more carefree and playful. Alom’s pointillisms glittered most brightly in a newer, more serpentine minor-key tune; a bit later, Giraudo reminded how waltzes are a big part of the tango tradition, with both a strikingly spare, almost minimally elegant one of his own, along with a brief detour back to the early days of tango in Argentina. From there they picked up the pace to close the show with a couple of characteristically rising and falling originals.

Grim conjecture prevailed afterward at the bar. Giraudo spoke of hopefully resuming his residency next month. What’s the situation with the bar now? “Chaos,” as one insider somberly put it. Barbes has been booked so smartly over the years that nights which are slow at other venues are moneymakers here. The official response to the coronavirus scare forced the club to go dark, at least for the foreseeable future. How long can any other venue in town survive? How are all the people who work in any kind of service industry – living from paycheck to paycheck, piecing together shifts, dogwalking gigs and such – going to be able to make rent next month, let alone now? In hushed, serious tones, old friends weighed the odds of every possible dire scenario.

Barbes successfully got through a hard patch when hit with unanticipated building-related costs in 2017: more than eight hundred people contributed to their fundraiser and a benefit concert at Drom in June of that year. Saturday night, several customers enthusiastically considered another one. Others simply wondered how long they could stay here. “I think I’ve got about another month left in New York,” a famous immigrant novelist mused. Another patron contemplated making a new start, away from this climate of fear, with relatives who have a house further north. That we should all be so lucky.

Catch the Pedro Giraudo Tango Quartet While You Can

Bassist Pedro Giraudo plays a ton of gigs with well-known classical and jazz groups, but his great love is the nuevo tango music he grew up with in Argentina. Since the late zeros, he and his Tango Jazz Quartet have maintained a regular monthly Barbes residency, which has become so popular that if you don’t show up early for his Nov 10, 8 PM show, you won’t be able to get in. Hard-hitting, brass-fueled newschool latin soul/boogaloo dance band Spanglish Fly headline the night at 10.

Giraudo’s magnum opus so far is his majestic, often haunting Cuentos album with his big band, where he draws on classical and tango themes as well as contemporary big band jazz. But he brings a lot of that same towering majesty and gravitas to the Barbes gigs. What’s most impressive is how economical   Giraudo is with his own material, playing a tight pulse with the rhythm section without many embellishments.

Typically, Giraudo mixes up his own material with Piazzolla classics as well as new arrangements of classic and obscure Argentine tango dating as far back as the 1920s or even earlier. This blog was in the house for his January and June shows as well as his gig last month, where with violin, piano and drums, he channeled an intensity and drama that would have made Piazzolla, his big influence, proud.

Occasionally Giraudo will reach for his bow in a particularly angst-fueled, windswept moment, but mostly he plays with his fingers. The piano spirals and cascades, the violin whirls and soars plaintively. This is music that originated in Spain but really found a home in South America where it was infused with the often haunting tonalities of the indigenous music there, and Giraudo brings it all full circle. Enjoy this monthly treat while it lasts, because it’s becoming too popular for a small-club gig.