New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: tango music

A Richly Individualistic Celebration of the Astor Piazzolla Centenary

The Astor Piazzolla centenary has disappeared without a trace so far this year. Like the Beethoven 250 celebrations, one can only imagine how many Piazzolla-centric concerts have been cancelled by the lockdowners. Piazzolla’s Argentine home turf may have a history as a beacon of democracy for the rest of Latin America, but that history has been scarred by intermittent bouts of brutal repression and 2020 was one of those years.

As you would expect, there have been a lot of celebratory Piazzolla albums released recently as well. One of the most imaginative and original of the bunch is the Astor 2020:  La Historia Continúa compilation – streaming at Spotify  assembled by guitarist Adam Tully and featuring an allstar cast of nuevo tango talent. Some of these compositions reference Piazzolla classics; others offer a similarly innovative sample of the creativity Piazzolla has inspired over the years.

Pantaleon, by the Pablo Murgier Cuarteto makes an absolutely gorgeous opener, Alex Musatov’s shiveringly expressive violin over the bandleader’s lyrical, neoromantic piano, Lautaro Muñoz’s bass and Federico Biraben’s bandoneon slowly busting a hole in the clouds. Flutters, sudden flares and an achingly soaring violin solo complete this masterpiece.

Agustín Guerrero’s Ciberespacio 2020 gets a bizarre, blippy synth intro from the bandleader before Julio Coviello’s bandoneon and Martín Rodríguez’s guitar hit a tricky but blazing, rhythmically challenging King Crimson drive. An icy, bassy synth interlude takes the song further toward Emerson Lake and Palmer terrain.

Exequiel Mantega’s elegant precise piano chords and Agustín Silberlieb’s low-key flute mingle in the Fain-Mantega project’s Construcción, finally rising to a leaping intensity. The circling polyrhythms between Cesar Rago’s violin, Fernando Otero’s electric piano, Tully’s guitar, Juan Pablo Navarro’s bass, Patricio Villarejo’s cello and eventually Nicolás Enrich’s bandoneon in Otero’s Amarilla are starkly, hypnotically intoxicating. Faro, by Martín Sued is a rivetingly carnivalesque solo bandoneon piece rich with eerie tritones and strange harmonies that grow more and more anthemic.

Tully and his trio contribute Trilonga 2020, with a slowly crescendoing contrast between spiky guitar and Shino Ohnaga’s murky, eerily hypnotic piano, with the occasional role reversal or boogie-woogie interlude. A noir clave slink from Adrián Enríquez’s piano anchors Bernardo Monk’s En el Camino, the most triumphantly orchestral number here, with Javier Kase’s violin, Emiliano Guerrero’s bandoneon and Monk’s sax conversing overhead. His increasingly badass solo is one of the album’s high points.

Manija, by Los Púa Abajo is a surreal mashup of Django Reinhardt swing and nuevo tango, fueled by the incisive, spiraling twin guitars of Ángel Colacilli and Leandro Coratella.. Adios Astor, by bandoneonist Adrián Ruggiero begins as a steady, rather menacing funeral march, hits an austere, wounded Facundo Canosapiano piano interlude that Nicolás Acosta’s bass brings up slowly, the bandoneon and then Coratella’s guitar delivering a defiantly triumphant, “told you so” theme to the foreground before a chillingly muted ending.

Ohnaga’s grittily insistent, brooding piano pairs off with Emilio Longo’s similarly incisive, dancing, circling bass in La Tomajena. The concluding Odisea, by violinist Ramiro Gallo is surprisingly short, at under five minutes, and bizarrely multistylistic, built around a jovial oldschool soul riff, followed by increasingly complex variations from his quintet with Adrián Enríquez on piano, Federico Santisteba on bandoneon, Lautaro Muñoz on bass and Santiago Vera Candioti on guitar. It’s as sophisticated as it is ridiculous. How fortuitous that Tully and crew would wrap up the recording just days before the lockdown.

Two Gorgeous, Rare Accordion Concertos to Celebrate an Icon

In celebration of the Astor PIazzolla centenary, classical accordionist Jovica Ivanović and the Ukrainian Chamber Orchestra have released a whole album of two of the rarest pieces in the symphonic repertoire: the accordion concerto.

Titled Piazzolla and Galliano, it features majestic works by the iconic Argentine bandoneonist and also by the great Richard Galliano and is streaming at Spotify. Both pieces are absolutely gorgeous and meticulously performed. That both soloist (Ivanovic is Serbian) and orchestra come from accordion-rich cultures might have something to do with it. In a smart bit of programming, the decision to program these two works together, rather than Piazzolla and rehashed Piazzolla from one of his innumerable acolytes, pays off mightily.

Ivanović and the ensemble open with Piazzolla’s Aconcagua, which begins with an insistent but light-footed pulse, staccato accordion matched by the strings and spiced with sweeping piano cascades. The first accordion solo is characteristically dynamic: echoey but traditionally tangoesque, then when the orchestra drop out Ivanović gets to show off some jaunty lyricism. The group bring back an elegant sweep that never lets up no matter how turbulent the music grows.

Ivanović takes his time with a sagacious, reflective solo to open the moderato second movement. Again, the balance between judicious piano and lush strings is striking, even as Ivanović bring back the delicately dancing introductory theme. They attack the gusty concluding movement with a similar dynamism, its bracing chromatic moments, bursting rhythms and momentary detours into wistfulness. 

The opening movement of Galliano’s Opale Concerto is marked allegro furioso: Ivanović’s machete accents and icepick staccato contrast with the looming unease and Tchaikovskian color from the orchestra, as well as his rapidfire lines over a catchy, anthemic bassline from massed low strings.

The lyrical variations, artful echo effects and bittersweetly reflective moments diverge momentarily toward a brooding tarantella in the moderato malinconico second movement: it’s arguably the album’s most captivating interlude. Ivanović and the orchestra provide an air-cushioned ride over some pretty rocky terrain as the coda descends to a nocturnal grandeur, and then a final salute which is the only place where the Piazzolla influence cannot be denied. What an impact he made, and it’s still resonating almost thirty years after we lost him.

A Richly Haunting New Tango Album and a Harlem Release Show by Sofia Tosello

Great singers are used to getting called on to sing all sorts of widely different styles, and Sofia Tosello is no exception. She’s just as comfortable fronting experimental trance-folk duo Chuño as she is with classic and nuevo tango. Her latest album, Lluvia Fue – streaming at her music page – is a real cloudburst of intensity, a mix of iconic and lesser known tango ballads from across the decades. She’s playing the album release show on Dec 8, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM at the newly reopened and remodeled Minton’s uptown. Cover is $15; as far as minimums, a seat at the bar is your most cost-effective move.

The sonics on the album match the unaffected, raw power of Tosello’s vocals, thanks to Fernando Otero’s brilliantly stark, uncluttered production. He plays piano, joined by Pedro Giraudo on bass, Nick Danielsonon on violin, Yuri Juarez on guitar, Adam Fischer on cello and Omar Massa on bandoneon. It opens with the stormy angst of Piazzolla’s Siempre Se Vuelve a Buenos Aires, the slashing string arrangement underscoring the longing and regret in Tosello’s narrative. In a sense, it’s the key to the album: tango may be a Spanish rhythm, but it was fermented and transformed in Argentina.

Likewise, the strings shift from nebulosity to a moody fugue in the Roberto Calvo title track, Tosello rising from misty acerbity to a full-throttle wail and back. She brings a coy cabaret rusticity to the torrential narrative in the first of the vintage Juan Carlos Cobián pieces here, Hambre. The other, Nostalgias, gets a strikingly spare, vivid treatment with just the strings and guitar behind Tosello’s dynamic, dramatic delivery.

Guest guitarist Adam Tully adds spiky flamenco flavor to another number from the guardia vieja, Jose Razzano’s colorful Tortazos, while Otero teams with Tosello for a lingering, stunningly nuanced piano-and-vocal take of José Dames’ Fuimos, adding jazz color and hints of Debussy that would no doubt strike a chord with Piazzolla. Sebastian Piana’s De Barro is a return to sardonically lyrical, pulsing milonga-room flavor, fueled by the strings and Juarez’s incisive guitar.

Tosello maxes out the cabaret theatrics in José Maria Aguilar’s Al Mundo Le Falta un Tornillo, matched by the tongue-in-cheek, strutting strings; the sad waltz Tu Pálida Voz, a 1943 hit for Charlo-Homero Manzi, follows a similar blueprint.

Osvaldo and Emilio Fresedo’a Vida Mia, popularized by Dizzy Gillespie, gets a glimmering, spaciously expansive piano-and-vocal treatment underscoring the solitude and abandonment in Tosello’s voice. The group follows the enigmatic tropicalia of Nestor Basurto’s Conjuro del Alba with the alternately marionettish and sweeping pulse of Eladia Blazquez’s Contame una Historia. The album closes aptly with Anibal Troilo’s La Ultima Curda, arguably the most haunting of Otero’s many brooding, clenched-teeth string arrangements here. 

It’s a Great Summer for Middle Eastern Music in New York

While much of the New York City parks system is on the highway to privatized hell – both Central Park Summerstage and the Prospect Park Bandshell series are selling ticketed seats to free concerts now – we haven’t yet reached the point where free summer concerts here have been whitewashed and yuppified to the point of irrelevance. Meanwhile, serendipitously, there have been some new publicly accessible concert series popping up, keeping the hallowed tradition of free summer concerts here alive.

One public space that’s been flying more or less under the radar until recently is Bryant Park. It wouldn’t be fair to let the month go by without mentioning the transcendent performance by slinky Middle Eastern ensemble the Bil Afrah Project, who opened the final night of this year’s Accordions Around the World festival there. Obviously, it would have been fun to stick around for the whole night, which ended with a wall-to-wall sea of revelers celebrating Colombian Independence Day.

The park’s overseers had the good sense to put the festival in the hands of tireless, intrepid impresario Ariana Hellerman (publisher of the irreplaceable Ariana’s List of free summer events). Over the course of the month, she drew from her roster of two hundred of New York’s finest accordionists (yes, there are that many) for a series of performances that reinforced the instrument’s portability across cultures, a powerful if compact vehicle for musical cross-pollination. 

In barely a half hour onstage, the Bil Afrah Project – who dedicate themselves to recreating Ziad Rahbani’s iconic 1975 Bil Afrah suite of reinvented Lebanese and Egyptian love and love-gone-wrong ballads- raised the bar for the rest of the evening dauntingly high. Rahbani has since gone on to be called the Lebanese Bob Dylan, although many others, none of whom sound anything like the American Nobel Laureate, have been given that label. Rahbani – son of famous chanteuse Fairouz and songwriter Assi Rahbani – was nineteen when he pulled a band together to record it. The suite doesn’t have much of the acerbically fearless political sensibility that characterizes his later work: its populist message is much subtler, grounded in its achingly wistful, sometimes melancholic, sometimes bucolic themes.

Group members, notably oudist Brian Prunka, accordionist Simon Moushabeck, ney flutist Bridget Robbins and violinist Sami Abu Shumays took turns playing plaintive taqsims as segues between songs. The most incisive, intense of these was from buzuq player Josh Farrar, who remained very prominent in the mix. John Murchison, a connoisseur of Middle Eastern bass, made his debut concert on kanun a memorable one as well. And riq tambourinist Michel Merhej Baklouk, who played on the original album, was present and added an almost defiantly crescendoing solo toward the end of the suite as the edgy chromatics, uneasy microtonal modes and graceful sweep of the music rose and fell over the pulse of Sprocket Royer’s bass and Jeremy Smith’s darbouka. Then emcee Rachelle Garniez took the stage and treated the crowd to some similarly incisive banter and her own noir-tinged material.

The performances on the festival’s next-to-last night fit in perfectly with its eclectic sensibility as well. Over the course of the early part of the evening, Erica Mancini played jaunty oldtimey swing, then made noir mambo out of the old standard St. Louis Blues. Shoko Nagai began with airy, austere Japanese folk themes and then went deep into the dark, kinetic chromatics of the klezmer music she loves so much.

Will Holshouser, best known for his exhilarating speed and high-voltage solos, flipped the script with his own thoughtful, methodically shifting originals, occasionally alluding to Indian modes: as a pioneer of the pastoral jazz revival, he deserves far more credit than he’s been given. And a beautiful blue-eyed blonde in the crowd called out Eduardo de Carvalho for the masculinity of his playing. That’s not to say that the other performances weren’t strong, but there was plenty of muscle in his confident, impassioned, unselfconsciously soulful, rustic runs through a mini-set of forro and tango.

Circling back to the Middle Eastern theme, there are a couple of upcoming shows that shouldn’t be missed. On July 29 at 8 at the Lynch Theatre at 524 W 59th St., haunting Lebanese oud-playing brothers the Trio Joubran  perform a homage to their late collaborator, the incendiary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish as part of this year’s Lincoln Center Festival; $30 tix are still available. And on August 10 at 10 PM, legendary, ageless Armenian-American jazz reedman Souren Baronian leads his amazing band at Barbes.

Thrills and Dynamism from the Transatlantic Ensemble at Steinway Hall

From this perspective, crowds at concerts have been even more sparse than usual since the election. Monday night at the new Steinway Hall just around the corner from the Town Hall, a surprisingly robust turnout for an early weeknight got to witness a thrilling, dynamic performance by the Transatlantic Ensemble: clarinetist Mariam Adam and pianist Evelyn Ulex, joined by a couple of similarly electrifying special guests, Lara St. John on violin and JP Jofre on bandoneon.

The group’s raison d’etre is to expand the range of serious concert music beyond the usual parade of dead white guys. Lots of ensembles are doing this, but few more excitingly than this semi-rotating cast. Adam got to treat the crowd with her joyous, technically challenging leaps and bounds as the group bookended the program with a couple of Paquito D’Rivera pieces, Benny@100 – a tribute to famed jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman – and a pulsing Venezuelan-flavored waltz.

In between, Ulex explored a similar dynamism and nuance. She’s one of the pianists Steinway selected to record for their digital player piano, the Spirio, which not only plays the notes but with a very close approximation of an individual player’s touch and phrasing. With the Spirio, you have your choice of your favorite music along with a variety of interpretations. If there’s no room in your apartment or your budget for such a big piece of equipment, the Steinway label has just put out the Transatlantic Ensemble’s new album Havana Moon – streaming at Spotify – whose release the group was celebrating.

The premise of the album, Adam revealed, was to celebrate the work of some of the group’s favorite composers from their global circle. The night’s biggest thrill ride was a tango by Miguel del Aguila, whom Adam described as “impetuous,” and she wasn’t kidding. Ulex attacked the tune with both graceful precision and unleashed passion as Adam provided cleverly dancing counterpoint, and St. John added her own high-voltage flurries and spirals. The group hit a similar peak later on when joined by Jofre for a rousing performance of his composition Primavera, which came across as more of a wild midsummer festival on the Argentinian pampa.

Del Aguila’s Silence, as Adam averred, was hardly silent: a requiem, it gave her the evening’s lone opportunity to cut loose in an anguished torrent of notes, and she made the most of it. The duo also elegantly parsed the subtleties of D’Rivera’s neoromantically-tinged Habanera, a wistful Roaring 20s Parisian waltz by Villa-Lobos and a surprisingly astringent, modernist lullaby by Jofre.

The Manhattan Camerata Bring Their Lush, Stormy Tango-Fado Project to Lincoln Center Out of Doors

If you can’t resist epic string charts, stormy neoromantic minor-key melodies and elegantly angst-ridden female vocals, you will love the Manhattan Camerata‘s Tango-Fado Project, streaming at their music page. The premise is to connect the dots between Argentine tango and Portuguese fado music. Which makes sense, considering that tango was originally guitar music, just like fado, and how much the two styles have been transformed over the years – and how much sadness and drama and smoldering fire that each still channels. The Manhattan Camerata, with singer Nathalie Pires, are opening the night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on August 3 at 7 PM, followed by Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca. If you don’t want to take chances and need a seat, you can join the line that will undoubtedly snake around the park before the show; doors are at six. However, considering that throughout the festival so far there’s been plenty of room, at least in the rear of the park behind the arena, it’s pretty safe to say that you’ll be able to get in if you can’t arrive early or don’t want to wait in the blazing sun.

The album’s opening track, Fado Magala, Mas Importante sets the stage, the vivid woundedness in Pires’ voice rising with the towering waves of the orchestra: fado tune, fango beat and arrangement, Pedro H. da Silva’s spiky Portuguese guitar trading with incisive piano. An achingly crystalline violin solo kicks off the jaunty, balmy Tango Abril En Portugal, Daniel Binelli’s bandoneon mingling with the orchestra and piano amid the ensemble’s mighty swells.

The group does Minha Lisboa Querida as a bouncy, strummy folk tune. 1=3=7 rises out of an uneasy bell-like guitar intro, bandoneon spiraling overhead, then picks up steam with a fiery flamenco edge that builds to fullscale orchestral grandeur. The brittle vibrato in Pires’ voice matches the stately, haunting guitar-and-string cadences of Amor E’Fogo: if Jeff Lynne was Portuguese, he might have written something like this.

Viejo Buenos Aires has titanic orchestration elevating it above the level of generic sentimentality. Fado Tango Cansaco sets Pires’ full-throttle vocals and fluttery melismas against a starkly pulsing guitar/bass/bandoneon backdrop. Tanguito Cordobes has intricate counterpoint and dynamics worthy of a Carl Nielson symphony, while the da Silva’s Non-Absolutist Universal Anthem comes across as the missing link between Syd Barrett and Astor Piazzolla, packed with snazzy piano and bandoneon flourishes and sizzling tremolo-picked guitar.

The album winds up with Piazolla’s four-part Suite Troileana. Part 1, simply titled Bandoneon opens with a dramatically suspenseful Binelli solo, the piano and strings sweep in with a more enigmatic wistfulness and then rise with hard-hitting piano to even greater heights. Parrt two, Zita has a more stripped-down, puckish, Gershwinesque charm, up to an uneasily atmospheric bandoneon break and then the orchestra cuts loose again. The third segment, Whisky has jazz flair, and humor – both the upbeat and grim kind – to match its title. The suite concludes with Escolaso, building out of a precise, balletesque theme to a phantasmagorical intensity. that borders on the macabre. It’s a triumph for Binelli, da Silva, pianists Polly Ferman and Lucia Caruso, and the rest of the orchestra. As musical cross-pollination goes in 2016, it doesn’t get any more ambitiously successful, dramatic, or passionate than this.

Tango Mastermind Polly Ferman’s Global Festival Hits a Crescendo on the Upper East Side

Last night’s music and dance extravaganza at the 92nd Street Y, the centerpiece of the Shall We Tango festival – a celebration of global tango and tango-influenced sounds – started at 8, and there was still a floor full of dancers by the time the final band wrapped up at half past eleven. Organizer/pianist Polly Ferman created her own Histoire du Tango (to steal a title from the Astor Piazzolla book, richly and eclectically represented here), and this was a sweeping survey of every kind of tango. Tango as gangster music, boudoir music, serious concert music, ballet soundtrack, as part of the jazz spectrum, the classical repertoire and, arguably, the root source of all things noir: this show had it all.

There was graceful and often spectacular dancing by pairs assembled by the festival’s dance director, Karina Romero. Sometimes simply graceful, often sensationally athletic, the dancers showed off moves that would have been at home on an Olympic ice rink. Are the Olympians stealing those spirals, upside-down catch-and-release tactics and slinky motives from the tango world, or vice versa?

Ferman, a brilliant, witty, fiery performer and interpreter, played with a wicked precision and a cascading, volleying, relentless intensity in tandem with bandoneon legend Daniel Binelli, a frequent collaborator of hers. A little later, she brought out a quartet version of her all-female group GlamourTango, who celebrate women’s contributions to tango over the decades. The piano/bass/bandoneon/violin ensemble ranged from lively neoromanticism, to brassy swing behind a succession of singers, to balletesque themes and a little jazz, Ferman and her crew shifting through the idioms with effortless expertise. GlamourTango don’t seem to have any NYC gigs lined up, but lucky Milwaukeans can catch them at Latino Arts, 1028 S. 9th St. in Milwaukee on Dec 4 and 5; tix are $15/$10 stud/srs.

Bogota-based Quinteto Tango Leopoldo Federico – who take their name from the Argentine legend – aired out the Piazzolla songbook and other iconic material with a viscerally spine-tingling focus. Pianist Alberto Tamayo, violinist Miguel Angel Guevara, bassist Kike Harker, electric guitarist Francisco Avellaneda and bandoneonist Giovanni Parra stunned the crowd with a remarkably serious, moody, meticulous approach, Guevara taking the spotlight and making the most of it. The crowd gave them a standing ovation and wouldn’t let them leave without a couple of encores, the first of which sounded like a droll tango arrangement of the 1950s Big Bopper hit Chantilly Lace.

After a milonga which drew much of the audience out onto the floor to pair up while vintage, orchestrated 1950s sounds played over the PA, sizzling Venezuelan violinist Eddy Marcano and his seven-piece group leaped and bounded through a joyously animated set of folk-inspired jazz themes, bookending a darkly majestic take of Piazzolla’s iconic Libertango, anchored by the pianist’s haunting, hard-hitting, murky lefthand attack. The festival continues through Oct 15, with dance classes, milongas and a couple of shows at the Queens Theatre in the Park in Corona, across from where Shea Stadium used to be. The rest of the New York schedule of events is here.

Fernando Otero’s New Album: Best of 2013?

Argentinian-born pianist/composer Fernando Otero won the Latin Grammy in the classical category in 2010 for his album Vital. That was a darkly beautiful record, but his new one, Romance, is even better. It’s a series of themes and variations in the style of a classical sonata, artfully split between instruments, interchanging between time signatures, interwoven like a secret code. Inspired by Argentine writer and clarinetist Julio Cortázar’s novel Hopscotch, it invites the listener to decide on a “modular” sequence of tracks, perhaps a wry nod to the reality of how listeners work in the iphone era. Taken in sequence, this is a harrowing ride that ends unresolved; however, if one plays the tracks in reverse order – or uses the austerely balletesque opening track as a conclusion – the grimness lifts considerably.

As he did with Vital, Otero works subtle mood shifts, but a haunted sensibility that’s often downright macabre lingers throughout the eleven tracks here. Otero plays with a murky elegance on all of them (in contrast to his often brutal attack on the keys, live in concert), yet the piano is not always the central instrument here. The ensemble behind him rises to the challenge of blending jazz-tinged neoromantic themes with new and classic tango within an overall ambience that defines the concept of noir. This is music raging, sometimes simmering, sometimes dancing, sometimes shivering against the dying of the light. This is a great album, a classic album, an achievement that ranks with the greatest work of Chopin, or Miles Davis, or Piazzolla, all of whom it resembles to some extent. It’s probably the best album of the year in any style of music. Otero reasserts himself as one of this era’s most important, compelling composers, and he covers a lot of ground. Otero and his ensemble are playing the cd release show tomorrow night, March 2 at the 92YTribeca at 9 PM. You have been warned.

A ghost-girl choir of Josefina Scaglione, Kristin Norderval and Dana Hanchard takes centerstage in the album’s most haunting moments. There’s a chilling, Satie-esque theme introduced by the piano that the strings pick up later on, and then the choir. Where will it end up? That’s the worrisome part. Otero works the entire spectrum of each instrument’s range, counterintuitively: the lows from Ljova Zhurbin’s viola, the highs from Adam Fisher’s cello, bassist Pablo Aslan switching in a split second from an elegant pulse to mournful bowed lines. Ivan Barenboim also switches between plaintive clarinet and brooding bass clarinet, running the gamut from jaunty optimism to sheer despair. Nicolas Danielson’s violin remains the one constant alongside the piano, a cynical dialectic of sorts.

Dreamy Tschaikovskian melodicism jostles against creepy, morose chromatics, agitated Mingus urban bustle, rapidfire two-handed Schumannesque stampedes with a surreal Twin Peaks glimmer and Shostakovian anguish. Stern classical scales quash any distant, tentative hope echoing from the choir; tiptoeing strings hand off to plaintive clarinet over resonant deadpool piano that rises only to an elegaic gleam. Again, you have been warned: watch for this on the best albums of 2013 page here at the end of the year, if we get that far.

Lush Eclectic Cosmopolitan Gypsy Sounds from Quadro Nuevo

Quadro Nuevo are huge in Europe. They have a new album out, Grand Voyage, recorded between stops around the world on what seems to be an endless tour. What they play defies categorization. Is it gypsy jazz? Much of it, yes. Is it nuevo tango? Some of it. Is it Middle Eastern music? Occasionally.The eclectic band’s central instrument is Andreas Hinterseher’s accordion (and sometimes bandoneon), which lends a gypsy or tango flavor to the rest of the stuff – and there is a lot of it, eighteen tracks’ worth. The rest of the band are a diverse cast; bandleader Mulo Francel switches between saxes and clarinet, and occasionally contributes bouzouki or guitar. Concert harpist Evelyn Huber artfully employs voicings from other instruments; one moment she can sound like a cimbalom or an oud, a second later she’s playing a guitar line. Bassist D.D. Lowka also plays percussion, xylophone and cimbalom as well. The album has a sad historical significance, as it includes the last recordings of guitarist Robert Wolf, who was paralyzed in an accident in 2008.

The opening tune might technically be a bolero, but at heart it’s a ridiculously catchy ska song – just when Lowka’s cimbalom is about to raise the lushness factor to completely hypnotic, the harp signals a return of the melody and then they’re off skanking again. The second track, a samba swing tune, is a letdown – it sounds like something out of the Pink Martini catalog. But then they get back on the good foot with a charming boudoir jazz version of the 1930s Mexican pop standard Cien Anos; it’s like a Las Rubias Del Norte instrumental.

Dark, majestic and neoromantic with central Asian tinges, Krim was recorded in a onetime sultan’s palace in the Ukraine. Samba Parapente, recorded in Corsica, takes on a spiky gypsy jazz edge, followed by Hinterseher’s gypsy jazz lullaby Aus der Stille der Nacht. They reinvent Nature Boy as a jaunty tango driven by guest William Galison’s harmonica, and a suspensefully bubbly guitar solo from Wolf before going off into free jazz territory for a bit.

Die Abenteurer evokes Doris Fisher’s bittersweet torch jazz classic Whispering Grass, contrasting with Lethe, a nebulous, misterioso waltz by Wolf. The pensive Antakya maintains a misty unease, shifting from echoes of Anatolian folk to flurrying gypsy jazz.

They follow that with a couple of tangos, one upbeat and full of delicious harp, accordion and sax solos and the other a balmy nocturne recorded late at night in Kuala Lumpur. Mosaique Tunisienne, a triptych, follows a rising arc from morning to night on the wings of Huber’s eclectic harp interludes set against pensive accordion and insistent, rat-a-tat goblet drumming. The most hardcore gypsy number here is Goaz Boq Musik, inspired by jamming with Transylvanian gypsies. The album ends with a warmly enveloping nocturne and then a full orchestral reprise of the ska song that opened the album. Recorded live in concert in 2010 with the NDR Radio Symphony Orchestra, it’s a radical piece of music, and everybody has a blast with it: in its towering, epic way, it’s ska-punk like you’ve never imagined. Count this as one of the most beguiling and consistently interesting albums of 2012, out now from Quebecois label Justin Time.

Revisiting a Legendary Piazzolla Concert in Central Park

Tuesday night at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, violinist Lara St. John teamed up with pianist Pablo Ziegler to celebrate the legendary 1987 concert there by Astor Piazzolla, immortalized on the Central Park Concert album. Joining them were fellow nuevo tango enthusiasts Hector Del Curto – rising with gusto to the challenging role of Piazzolla himself, on bandoneon – plus bassist Andrew Roitstein and guitarist Claudio Ragazzi. This had to be the first time an electric guitar playing through a chorus box has ever been broadcast on WQXR (then again, QXR is part of the cool crowd now, as part of the WNYC family alongside hot internet classical station Q2). Arguably, tango is the definitive noir genre, all angst and raging against the dying of the light. As ripe for parody as some tango is, what makes Piazzolla’s work stand out perhaps more than any other factor is that he never went over the top, preferring a constant, aching sense of suspense that the musicians onstage established quickly and seldom wavered from.

As he recounted to emcee Midge Woolsey, Ziegler was making his first return trip to the bandstand where he’d been on that rainy night 25 years ago, unabased to remind that Piazzolla had chosen him for the band because he liked Ziegler’s ability to improvise. Which is still his forte: whether anchoring the songs with a rich chordal approach or embellishing them with jaunty flourishes or raging torrents, he was fascinating to hear, through a set that mixed songs played the last time he’d been here along with two originals: his insistently longing requiem for Piazzolla, Milonga Del Adios, and his long, lushly shapeshifting Muchacha De Boedo. Like Ziegler, both Del Curto and St. John grew up playing Piazzolla, and it showed. Perhaps so as not to trigger any comparisons to the legendary composer, Del Curto played with a rippling, upbeat energy, for the most part leaving the angst to St. John and Ziegler and occasionally the rest of the band.

They dug deeply into the material right from the start, with a brightly glimmering, hard-hitting version of Michaelangelo, then played up the jazz and ragtime aspects of Muerte Del Angel, then brought the lights down with the dirge Introduccion Del Angel, bandoneon and violin sailing over the murk below. They gave Ragazzi the chance to go deep into the shadows with an echoey, distantly menacing solo introduction to the relatively obscure Mumuki, lept and jumped with abandon throughout the shark-fishing narrative Escualo and mined every ounce of noir urban bustle from the complicated arrangement of Tanguedia. Ziegler opened Piazzolla’s elegy for his father, Adios Nonino, with a long, poignant solo, then brought it up with an aching intensity as it crescendoed out. The final two Piazzolla pieces were an uneasy version of the rather avant garde Lunfardo – another relatively rare number from the 1987 concert – and then a fiery, violin-fueled Libertango. The audience responded thunderously; the group, oblivious to the helicopters circling overhead, rewarded them with a hard-hitting minor-key romp whose title was lost in the applause. Most of the musicians on the bill now reside in New York, so while a second performance of this program probably isn’t in the cards, something similar is bound to happen. Watch this space.