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Album of the Week: Piazzolla in Brooklyn, Pablo Aslan Quintet

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Piazzolla In Brooklyn
Pablo Aslan Quintet
Soundbrush Records

It's actually pretty difficult to judge something like musical quality; your personal conclusions all tend to be based around your perspective. Different people arrive into their conclusions from diverse backgrounds and varying experiences that color their opinions about music. Studied musicians make conscious choices about their artistic priorities, and as a result, they judge performances based upon their personal priorities. Our cultural reference points make a big difference in the way that we perceive music; our judgements arise from the teachings and cultural biases of the people that shape our everyday lives. History tends to shade our perspectives as well—looking back at a collection of music decades later allows us to view it with a different set of ears. There's so many factors that shade our conclusions about music, and in reality, there's not a single opinion that states the complete truth about a piece of music. From the perspective of nuevo tango pioneer Astor Piazzolla, his 1959 album Take Me Dancing was an “artistic abomination," but bassist Pablo Aslan revisited the album's music from a distinctly different point of view on Piazzolla In Brooklyn.

Balancing The Structure Of Tango And The Improvisation Of Jazz

Aslan's quintet shapes several pieces of Piazzolla's music with a clever balance that touches upon the structured world of tango and improvised realm of jazz. A rhythmic melody from Enrich and Rogantini digs deeply into the band's serious groove on “Dedita," sending the band charging into the song with a strong forward motion. A quick stop break opens into a powerfully lyrical solo from Bergalli, which gives way to a smartly constructed solo from Rogantini full of racing melodic lines over a heavy groove. A more visceral statement from sends the band racing the a vicious unison line into a heavily syncopated and colorful solo from Piazzolla. Aslan cleverly introduces a bowed melodic figure which intertwines with a line from Enrich before Bergalli harmonizes the main theme on “Counterpoint." Enrich weaves a gentle phrase through the chords until an unaccompanied solo from Aslan leads the band back into the main melody. The time dissolves into a floating sensation behind a unison melody from Aslan and Bergalli, coming back together for a smart jazz edged improvisation from Rogantini. Bergalli and Enrich attack an edgy melody with a passion on “Plus Ultra," until the group gives way to a flowing trumpet solo. Enrich's driving improvisation stops abruptly into a lack of time, which the band builds back into a defined momentum behind Bergalli. Rogantini rides the growing drive through a moody solo before a rhythmic interlude segues into a percussive statement from Aslan, filled with expressive articulations. These songs show the deep connection that each musician shares with Piazzolla's music, but it allows us to see that link through a modern jazz perspective.

Viewing Traditional Jazz Through A Tango Lens

Several pieces from the original album refer to the traditional jazz world through a tango lens, giving Aslan's group some serious fuel for creative exploration. The rhythm section creates a steady groove underneath Enrich, who interprets the classic melody of the Raksin-Mercer composition “Laura." Bergalli breathes some hard bop fire over the rhythm section's ever changing combination of swing and tango, making for a rich and interesting improvisation. Rogantini takes a more cautious approach, easing into his solo before flying through the chord changes with abandon that inspires some intensive brush work from Piazzolla. The unforgettable melody to George Shearing's “Lullaby Of Birdland" takes on a edgy and angular quality with rhythmic displacements and an overload of drama. Rogantini reveals an intimate familiarity with the classic chord changes, tearing through a focused melodic development with a bop flavored dexterity. Bergalli sets the band on fire with a blazing journey through the changes that sends Piazzolla into a fit of wild interaction that sends the group into an unforgettable high point. Rogantini introduces a tasteful melody over the rhythm section on Piazzolla's tribute to the essential jazz pianist “Oscar Peterson." The pianist begins an extended improvisation over the piece, taking advantage of the trio setting to stretch the time and color the harmony with an insightful skill. While Rogantini's performance stands apart from the bluesy approach of the song's namesake, there's a sense of connection that lies in the solid and jazz based performance of the trio. The connection between Piazzolla's concept, tango culture, and jazz emanates from these three songs in a very pronounced way.

Highlighting The Group's Improvisatory Skills

The group fills out the recording with a collection of Piazzolla compositions that highlight the improvisatory skills of the group. Aslan creates a serious tone with a bowed bass figure while drummer Daniel “Pipi" Piazzolla washes cymbals around the pulse on “Calle 92," leading into a strict and rhythmic melody from bandoneon player Nicolas Enrich and trumpet player Gustavo Bergalli. The band shrinks to a whisper as Enrich and Bergalli trade lush melodic lines and Aslan delivers a richly melodic improvisation. Enrich returns with a more rhythmically engaging statement pushing the dynamic level into energetic solos from pianist Abel Rogantini and Bergalli, which explode into a thematically solid improvisation from Piazzolla. Enrich and Bergalli send repeated melodic lines through clever variations while the rhythm section hits key accent points on “Show Off," tempered by a quiet section of reflective beauty. The band comes down behind a lyrical solo from Enrich, filled with the distinct emotive qualities of his instrument. The rhythm section explodes into brash hits and dissonant chords behind Bergalli's improvisation, which the trumpet player uses to build into a climactic finish. A descending unison run from Enrich, Bergalli, and Rogantini disperses into a twisting combination of complex melodies on “Something Strange," before a rigid swing section takes the group into the solo cycle. Bergalli races into an explosive run that leads into long angular lines that wind in and out of the harmony with a fiery finesse. The trumpet player really shines through his feature here, spinning lines call upon equal amounts of tango history and bop tinged jazz. There's a frenzied feeling to the melody that Bergalli, Enrich, and Rogantini speed through on “Triunfal," that resonates with contrast as the band crashes into a variety of textures for solos. The group quiets to a whisper behind Aslan, who blends melodic development, fiery inspiration, and sturdy technique to create a memorable solo. Enrich follows with a strong solo that builds upon Aslan's momentum, adding a touch of lyrical beauty to the statement. The quintet shows the improvisatory potential behind Piazzolla's music, as they cut loose on these songs with an impassioned mastery.

Finding Beauty From A Distinctly Different Perspective

Take Me Dancing may be considered as one of Astor Piazzolla's “worst" albums, but Aslan and his group find beauty in the album's music, delivering an outstanding performance on Piazzolla In Brooklyn. The group approaches each song with an equal helping of respect and knowledge for Piazzolla's legacy and a bold initiative to turn it into something new. The group channels modern jazz aesthetics at every turn, integrating pieces of the bebop language and modern harmonies into their performance, as well as a strong preference for group interaction. Bergalli storms through the album with passionate grace and virtuosic flair, while Enrich serves as a fine counterpoint for the soloist. Rogantini leaps out of the recording with a very defined personality as a soloist and a strong supportive player. Aslan guides the band with a firm stability, active creativity, and deep knowledge from behind his bass, constantly pushing the band in a variety of new directions. Piazzolla holds the strongest connection to the composer, but he most vividly distinguishes himself from the tradition with a performance filled with spontaneity and assertive character. Aslan and his quintet provide a refreshing and inspired perspective upon the music of Take Me Dancing with a passionate, modern, and informed performance on Piazzolla In Brooklyn, letting us see the beauty of these pieces through their eyes.

Track Listing:

  1. La Calle 92 (Astor Piazzolla)
  2. Counterpoint (Astor Piazzolla)
  3. Dedita (Astor Piazzolla)
  4. Laura (David Raksin—Johnny Mercer)
  5. Lullaby Of Birdland (George Shearing—George D. Weiss)
  6. Oscar Peterson (Astor Piazzolla)
  7. Plus Ultra (Astor Piazzolla)
  8. Show Off (Astor Piazzolla)
  9. Something Strange (Astor Piazzolla)
  10. Triunfal (Astor Piazzolla)


Musicians:

Gustavo Bergalli—trumpet; Nicolas Enrich—bandoneon; Abel Rogantini—piano; Pablo Aslan—bass; Daniel “Pipi" Piazzolla—drums

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This story appears courtesy of The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz.
Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved.

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