Lluvia Fue – impeccable tango from an experienced, top-tier vocalist

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The Music and Myth has only recently returned from its long hiatus and already things are back in high gear. There’s a number of articles in queue for the next few weeks, with a concert review from Nick Cave’s spectacular, mammoth-show in Belgrade, Serbia, a study of a Grammy-nominated debut record from a familiar face and the upcoming 2017 Music and Myth Awards, spearheaded by a powerful front runner. I feel like I never left!

I’ll get to all those things during the winter holidays while I take a break from working on my books. But first: a substantial sampling of impeccable tango from an experienced, top-tier vocalist.

When Sofia Tosello sent me her latest record for review, I was immediately excited to hear it. Longtime readers might jokingly point to my affinity for Argentine-born vocalists named Sofia, but there’s more to it than that. Ever since writing about Bernardo Monk’s excellent A Toda Orquesta, I’ve developed a growing interest in tango culture, looking for further opportunities to study this dynamic and captivating art form. A complex, superbly orchestrated work, Lluvia Fue (Chamber Tango) provided me with just such an opportunity.

Arranged by Grammy-award-winning pianist Fernando Otero, Tosello’s fourth album had its official release only five days ago, on December 8th, with a concert at Minton’s Harlem, New York. Tosello’s experience with tango is evident from the record’s opening moments, as she tackles this emotionally demanding genre with ease and confidence.

Perhaps symbolically, the album begins with a tune by Astor Piazzolla, arguably the most recognizable name in tango. In “Sempre se vuelve a Buenos Aires”, Tosello instantly captivates with a delivery that feels honest and authentic, powering through this tempestuous ode to the “Paris of South America” with vivacity and emotion. In the title track, a soulful, delicate composition by Roberto Calvo, the orchestra’s timing and finesse enhances Tosello’s superb vocals. It quickly becomes clear that a great part of the vocalist’s impact is achieved through a careful, balanced arrangement by seasoned pianist Fernando Otero, whose understanding of the strengths and predilections of his vocalist is outstanding. Furthermore, the band, consisting of guitarists Yuri Juarez and Fede Diaz, with Pedro Giraudo on bass, Javier Sanchez on bandoneon and Nick Danielson and Brian Sanders on violin and cello respectively are at a constant apogee, providing an instrumental backdrop that serves as an evenly-matched partner/antagonist to Tosello’s voice.

Equal parts singer and actress, the vocalist runs an emotional gamut in Juan Carlos Cobia’s “Hambre” and “Nostalgias”, vociferous and confrontational in the former, vulnerable and expressive in the latter, whose final minute marks one of the record’s standout moments.

“Tortazos” focuses on the dynamic contribution of guest guitarist Adam Tully, whose fierce flamenco is complimented by Tosello’s high-strung delivery, while “Fuimos” a voice-and-piano duet stands as the highlight of the record. With just a touch of jazz, Otero’s piano gently accompanies Tosello’s voice, offering at once support and inspiration. With her cries of “Vete” (Go Away) the singer reaches a point of unrestrained emotion in an absolutely flawless track, spectacular for its evocative simplicity.

“Fuimos” transitions to an intense rendition of Sebastian Piana’s and Homero Manzi’s “De Baro” with a short but delectable guitar solo, followed by the anxious, droning “Al Mundo Le Falta un Tornillo”, which the vocalist once again infuses with her lively staginess. Though entertaining and energetic, Charlo and Homero Manzi’s “Tu Palida Voz” gets overshadowed by its much more forceful neighbors.

As a jazz enthusiast, I was delighted to hear “Vida Mia”, a song I’m familiar with from Dizzy Gillespie’s repertoire. In another voice-piano duet (and another of the album’s high points), Tosello’s voice calls out and Otero’s devoted instrument answers, engaging in an impassioned back-and-forth as rigorous and dynamic as tango itself. Perhaps it’s for the fact that I am still a novice in the world of tango, with its passion and discipline, that I found myself responding naturally to the simplest, most straightforward songs, a fact practically confirmed by my fondness for the equally tender pairing of voice and strings on “Conjura del Alba”.

The final sequence of “Contame una Historia” and “La Ultima Curda” ends the record on a powerful note, with the vocalist working up to a cathartic abandonment in the former, then falling back to a valedictory lament in the latter, augmented by the somber, haunting string section.

In Lluvia Fue (Chamber Tango), Sofia Tosello, backed by an exceptional band following a an irreproachable arrangement, seems to want to to more than merely record a series of classic tango songs. The album feels like a statement and, at the same time, a form of liberation. A beautiful record, highly recommended.

 

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Bernardo Monk’s A Toda Orquesta – the passion and rigor of tango, the expressive freedom of jazz

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Without a doubt, the greatest aspect of running The Music and Myth for four and a half years has been the opportunity to discover a wide and varied array of new music. Most of the time, it’s simply because I’m paying more attention to what’s playing around me, or what I’m randomly playing as background music for my long writing sessions. I’ve also been more proactive about seeking out new music since I’ve started this website.

Some of the time, I discover new music while following the careers of my favorite musicians. Through their countless collaborations, I’m exposed to the talent of fascinating new artists. That’s how Tom Waits led me to Marc Ribot who, in turn, led me to John Zorn, in whose concerts I’ve discovered the likes of John Medeski, Joey Baron, Mike Patton and Sofia Rei. I am currently a fan of all of these musicians and everyone can be traced back to Tom Waits like some musical version of six degrees of separation.

Sometimes it’s by directly talking to musicians, who recommend someone they think is great and whose work they want to bring to my attention. Other times, they recommend The Music and Myth to their peers, urging them to contact me and send me their work or they just come across The Music and Myth on their own and decide to write to me. That is by far my favorite way of getting to know new artists. I’ve not only broadened my musical horizons, I’ve also made many friends over the years.

Composer, saxophone player and vocalist Bernardo Monk was encouraged to contact me by none other than The Music and Myth’s Patron Saint, Sofia Rei. I am very glad he did, because I was immediately captivated by the temperament and sheer musicality of his work. When he sent me his 2014 release, A Toda Orquesta, I couldn’t wait to sit down and study it.

My excitement had a lot to do with the fact that I haven’t had the opportunity to grow very familiar with tango and I’m always looking forward to expanding my understanding of serious music. I knew that studying and reviewing Bernardo’s work would provide me with exactly the type of challenge I enjoy the most.

The record opens in a forceful way, with the high-powered, almost aggressive “Microcentro”. A haunting, suspense-building piano sequence that brings to mind film scores introduces the rest of the instruments, which proceed to erupt in a high-octane explosion of sound, before ceding the stage again to pianist Abel Rogantini for a splendid solo.

The key word here is narrative tension, as it seems to be throughout the record. A superb example of this is the dialogue between Pablo Motta’s double bass and the bandoneons courtesy of Daniel Ruggiero, Ramiro Boero and Nicolás Enrich.

As was the case with Tyshawn Sorey’s The Inner Spectrum of Variables, I once again find myself in one of the rare instances when I regret not having a musical education, which I am sure would have enhanced my understanding of this already promising record.

While the opening track follows a fairly traditional construction, slowing down at times to allow each of the main instruments (piano, soprano sax and double bass) to take center stage, it is saved from being predictable simply by the intensity of the band’s performance. In a profoundly captivating genre that commands the listener’s attention in a unique way, timing and tension are vital and “Microcentro” delivers in spades.

With its typical tango narrative and outstanding use of the string section, “A La Pista” contains all of the compositional elements that make this genre so captivating. At its best, tango is an intimate bond between music and listener, who become as intensely engaged as the partners absorbed by the homonymous dance.

The title track is a perfectly-paced piece full of warmth and mystery, where the composer demonstrates his sensibility for all instruments. The beautifully timed crescendos, divided by moments of almost precautionary stillness bring about a powerful finale, making this one of the record’s highlights.

It’s followed by another highlight, “Pentatonico”, where Bernardo gets to bring his instrument (this time an alto) front and center. A song that borrows from jazz perhaps more than any other, “Pentatonico” has a repetitive introduction that quickly unfolds into a splendid display of controlled chaos. Dominated by the presence of the saxophone, the rest of the instruments melt away into a false finish, with only the saxophone remaining unscathed. Left alone to cast off the silence, it softly calls out, summoning the other instruments, bringing the song back to life. It is one of the longest and most dynamically complex pieces on the record and my personal favorite.

Outstanding for its superb melody and fascinating interplay between piano and strings, “Cuando Volvamos a Vermos” provides a tender shift in tone and pace before “Zapadora” once again switches the tempo with its unrestrained energy and splendid solos.

Bernardo steps into the forefront again, this time as a vocalist on “Chau Bulin” and “Que Siga Lloviendo Asi”. His delivery is spot-on, especially on “Chau Bulin” – polished and balanced, evoking emotion without becoming melodramatic. It’s so good, in fact, that it left me wishing there had been more vocal tracks on the record and wondering why that wasn’t the case. Still, the order of the songs is well arranged, with the two vocal tracks positioned as a climactic moment of candid expression.

At once straightforward and complex, “Ecos de Vals” sets the album up for a powerful finale, which is delivered in the intense and haunting “Avalancha”. A veritable tour de force for all musicians (which includes a superb stretch of collective percussion) “Avalancha” is a powerful closing statement, fitting for an album that maintains the passion and rigor of tango while allowing the musicians to express themselves with jazz-like freedom.

A pleasure to listen to from the first note to the last!