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My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.comTango Club – CT Tango Ensemble launch their new CD: Baxter Concert Hall 23 March 2010, 8pm

“Close your eyes and Listen”. The opening track on Tango Club – the CT Tango Ensemble’s new CD – invites you to do just that. But you will be forgiven for keeping your eyes open during the CD Launch performance to be held at the Baxter Concert Hall, 23 March 2010, at 8 pm. Featuring dancers as well as the music played by the group, the evening promises to be a display of tango virtuosity – a feast for the eyes and ears. The group has been polishing its tango shoes for over a decade and has attracted media attention and radio and television airtime throughout South Africa, and as far afield as Buenos Aires and Bulgaria. They have been seen on stage and in concert halls throughout the country, at all the major festivals such as Aardklop, Grahamstown and Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees. The four musicians, Stanislav Anguelov (Accordion and Bandoneon), Albert Combrink (Piano), Jacek Domagala (Violin) and Charles Lazar (Double Bass) are all classically trained but all have played in cross-over and jazz fields, making them ideal for interpreting the special Latin feel of the Tango. Guest artists from the CD will join the ensemble in the Launch Spectacular at the Baxter Concert Hall. Acclaimed musicians James Grace (Guitar), Willie van Zyl (Saxophone) and Kevin Gibson (drums) were guest artists on the album and will bring their special magic to the Launch.

The latest CD is a new departure for the CT Tango Ensemble. The music is funkier and more modern than their very popular previous CD El Tango en Africa – which caused such a stir in the local music industry and tango community when it was first released. The new CD includes music by Astor Piazzolla, the “father” of Argentinean “Tango Nuevo “. This ensemble has made a name for itself as a leading interpreter of Piazzolla in various shows: Heinrich Riesenhofer’s El Beso – The Kiss (Little Theatre – with choreography by Mareli Schröter), Marthinus Basson’s Tango Del Fuego (Oude Libertas etc.) and even on eTv’s Backstage where they performed with TangoCapeTown’s Mark Hoeben and Ina Wichterich. Shows such as The Tango Experience and All you ever wanted to know about Tango but were too afraid to ask, written and directed by Mark Hoeben, took the Tango Ensemble as far afield as Namibia, giving them many opportunites to learn the particular styles of music found in the wide genre of Tango.

Stanislav Anguelov has even performed Piazzolla’s classical Bandoneon Concerto with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. Very exciting news is that the CD includes original music composed by members of the Ensemble. Anguelov’s Tango Made in Africa was the pivotal composition for the group’s first CD, which explored the links between African and Latin American Music and included Dizu Plaatjies on the Djembe Drum. The latest CD introduces more Jazz and pop elements with the inclusion of instruments such as the Saxophone and a Drumkit. Anguelov’s pieces combine the styles of traditional tango with more contemporary language. His Addios has been a firm favourite whenever they perform it live. The track, Cape Town Tango, celebrates Anguelov’s “transplant” from Bulgaria to the Cape of Good Hope – which has seen him share the stage with superstars Queen and Sir Bob Geldof at the 2003 Nelson Mandela 46664 Concert. The song is infused with a Cape Town Jazz feel, and is set to be one of the hits from the new disc.

The CD also features the vocals of Argentine-born South African Adriana Edwards, currently living in Japan. Anguelov’s song Tango Club was commissioned by the Movie Director Christopher Rodrigues for his film The First and Last Loves of Leonardo Lopes. Hence the lyrics by Rainer Maria Rilke (translated into Spanish by vocalist Adriana) were chosen by the director to suit the characters & scene in the film. Originally the song was intended for one scene only but after hearing the composition Christopher fell in love with this song and used section from it a few times in the film. Music of the CT Tango Ensemble was used throughout the film.

Berklee College of Music Graduate Charles Lazar composed two songs for the disc. Temperance features the beautiful guitar solos of James Grace. Lazar’s pieces are the most Jazz-influenced on the disc. His jazz experience makes a critical contribution to the ensemble. Drummer Kevin Gibson and jazz saxophonist Willie van Zyl are the other guest artists who bring a funky jazz style to the new CD

Jacek Domagala, who also plays First Violin with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, brings classical virtuosity to the earthiness of the Tango. Domagala and Anguelov perform often as a duo with a Mediterranean flavor, and his style his perfectly suited to both the poplar and the classical elements of this music.

Albert Combrink is a pianist who works in a variety of genres, both as classical pianist and popular musician and has been seen on stages around the country. He is also the arranger of some material on the disc.

The Launch of Tango Club will be held on the stage of the Baxter Concert Hall, with LIVE DANCING. CD’s will be on sale after the show.

Booking through computicket.

Tickets: R95 adults, R85 Student and pensioner’s discount

CD’s for sale at LAUNCH SPECIAL PRICE: R100 each

Stanislav Anguelov

Jacek Domagala

Jacek Domagala

Charles Lazar

Albert Combrink

Kevin Gibson on drums

James Grace appears courtesy of Stringwise Records

Willie vanZyl

Adriana Edwards

Ensemble Photos by Jenny Altschuler

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

La Muerte del Angel (The Death of the Angel) is one of Astor Piazzolla’s works that has been arranged in various guises, by Piazzolla himself, and by others. The Cape Town Tango Ensemble’s new CD Tango Club features my arrangement.

Astor Piazzolla wrote Tangos that cover an astonishing musical range. Music for over 40 films share his catalogue  with dance music “concert tangos”  and symphonic works such as the Bandoneon Concerto. From solo flute to jazz ensembles to full symphony orchestra, Piazzolla continually pushed the boundaries of his musical language. He was a classically trained musician, so many of his arrangements of his own works are written out in such a way that a classical ensemble could perform them. His period of study in France with the world famous composition teacher Nadia Boulanger reflected his lifelong interest in “serious” music. However, in his quest to rejuvenate the traditional dance tango, he incorporated the improvisations of Jazz, and the atonal experiments of the avant garde classical composers of the 20th century. The resulting Tango Nuevo (New Tango) is an exhilarating world where improvisation in the heat of the moment joins hands with strict rules of classical music in an intoxicating dance.

The written musical scores are often deceptively simple. Below is a sample of the skeleton piano score of La Muerte del Angel sold by Tonos Publishers. (Click on the score to view enlarged version.)

La Muerte del Angel - the skeleton score

This page forms the A section: rhythmic, incisive, aggressive. It is followed by a reflective, inward-looking B section with a laid-back, smokey jazz feeling. Two pages only. It is so simple one might be forgiven for dismissing it. Yet the seeds for a magnificent creation are contained in these two simple pages. The art lies in how this skeleton is transformed into a fully-fledged piece of music. Piazzolla made various arrangements of the work and each time he performed it, the improvisations were different.

Piazzolla and the Fugue: “TANGUIFICATED”

A fugue is a theme that chases a duplicate of itself

One of the formal classical styles Piazzolla used to particularly dramatic effect, is the Fugue. The word “Fugue” means “to chase” and that is almost literally the implication of the way in which the entries of the main fugue theme “chase” one another. With Piazzolla’s trademark rhythmic drive – bordering on obsessive compulsive – his fugues are particularly exciting. In a 1989 interview Piazzolla told Gonzalo Saaverda (transl. David Taylor):

But my main style is to have studied. If I had not, I would not be doing what I do, what I’ve done. Because everybody thinks that to do a ‘modern tango’ is to make noise, is to make strange thoughts, and no, that’s not true! You have to go a little deeper, and you can see that what I do is very elaborate. If I do a fugue in the manner of Bach, it will always be “tanguificated”.

James Waller: Fugue Icon Cycle (www.jameswaller.org)

And tanguified they are. While they are not rigorously worked out fugues in the style of Bach, his 18 month period of intense study of four-part harmony is evident in his ease of handling the fugal style. All Piazzolla’s fugues are fast and furious. He seemed to revel in the “thrill of the chase” afforded by this style of writing. Bringing in a theme for a second time, before the first play-through of it has ended, builds tremendous excitement and tension.

A Tango “FUGUIFICATED”: The challenge of “Post-Piazzollism”

"Autumn Fugue" (jnm_ua on flickr.com)

"Autumn Fugue" (jnm_ua on flickr.com)

I wanted to arrange this work myself, as much as hommage to Piazzolla and my passion for his music, and as an attempt to realise some of the sounds that the work conjured in my imagination. “Post-Piazzollism” is both the legacy of this great master, as well as the challenge for any musician treading this holy ground. In my arrangement, I did not use Piazzolla’s Fugue version of La Muerte del Angel as the starting point, but chose to attempt to create something new. There was something in the theme that just seemed to call for a “chase”. Whenever we performed this work in the past, we would work only off the piano score: each instrument embellishes and improvises around the basic structure.  Elements of Jazz enter the world of classically trained musicians, are we improvise “on the fly”.

Twyla Tharp's "The Fugue" danced at Juilliard (Photo: Rosalie O'Connor)

In some of our more confident concerts the fugue just seemed to sneak in all the time. Something about the harmony was so logically suited to imitation, that somehow it always turned into a fugue of sorts. I also enjoyed the virtuosity of the material, and having another keyboardist in the form of the accordion in the ensemble in addition to the violin, was just too good to resist. Various orchestral versions of this work exist. The many instruments in an orchestra make the composition of a fugue a more direct procedure than allowing a quartet or quintet of musicians to “improvise fugally” at will. While some of our improvisations were thrilling and on the edge, occasionally there was just a bit too much fugality for our own good. I felt the need to limit some of the artistic decisions we took on the spur of the moment, by writing down, and thus containing, some of the fugal elements. Naturally, this limited possibility for improvisation, for all the musicians in the ensemble. In the process, I killed off some of the potential “discoveries” we might still have stumbled upon in a fiery performance. But perhaps this sacrifice was for the greater good of the performance as a whole.

Virgin Sacrifice in Piazzolla and Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps meets Tango

Aysem Sunal and Priit Kripson in Le Sacre du Printemps, with choreography by the legendary Mauricio Wainrot. (Paul De Backer)

Ritual slaughter of innocent victims for the good of the greater community, is an archetypal event common to humanity:

Aslan, the titular animal in C.S. Lewis’ 1950 book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe , is a good exmple. The Christian Bible abounds in tales of Human Sacrifice, in adition to the obvious metaphor of Christ. Even a modern film aimed at a youth market such as Ice Age 3 has a Sloth Sacrifice Ceremony. Sid the Sacrificial Sloth, narrowly escapes certain death in the heart of a volcano, simply by virtue of his own innocence (some might say stupidity turned vritue). Piazzolla’s work on the death of the angel is definitely cut from the same psychic cloth.

La Muerte del Angel was created for Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz’s 1962 stage play Tango del Angel, in which an angel heals the spirits of the residents of a shabby Buenos Aires neighbourhood. Munoz required a narrative suite that encompassed a story of innocence, deceit, violence and death, and reconciliation. The death of the angel is required for the purification of the humans. The drive and aggression in this work reminded me a lot of another famous ritual Virgin Sacrifice. Stravinsky’s earliest conception of The Rite of Spring was in the spring of 1910, in the form of a dream: “… the wise elders are seated in a circle and are observing the dance before death of the girl whom they are offering as a sacrifice to the god of Spring in order to gain his benevolence.”

The record cover for Seiji Ozawa's recording of "Le Sacre du Printemps"

For many, Le Sacre represents the explosion of the tonal and rhythmic anarchy of the 20th century. To me – given the 20/20 vision afforded by a hundred years’ human rhythmic endeavour –  large sections of it seem eminently danceable. My experiences of intense music making with the CT Tango Ensemble – either by ourselves in concert or in the sacred space of the rapt improvisations or choreography of various dancers – has given some of our performances and element of ritual. The primal ritual of human sacrifice resonated with me when playing Piazzolla’s angel sacrifice. I fear I identified with both the victim and the aggressor. As composers both Stravinsky and Piazzolla are able to depict violence and aggression. Perhaps for that very reason, the music of the victim is all the more poignant.

In making the arrangement I felt that the sound of the violin is often the voice that speaks for both Piazzolla’s and Stravinsky’s sacrificial victims. Therefore the violin has a rhapsodic cadenza linking the violence of the chase with the contemplation of the angel.

"Salome" (Aubrey Beardsley). Another sacrificial victim in which the Pure Eve and the Fallen Eve are draped in the same veil

While the concept of an angel implies purity and virginity, the sensual nature of Piazzolla’s melodic material more than hints at carnal desires. The eroticism of the melody is irresistible and undeniable. The eroticism of the tango is likewise not to be disputed.  In his Tango Operita Maria de Buenos Aires, Piazzolla created the character of Maria as an allegory for the tango itself: death and resurrection, the fall from grace, transcendence.

I tried to bring these apparent contradictions to bear on this arrangement. I enjoyed the ambivalence of melodies that can change perspective from the hunted victim to the hunter. The violence projected through the Tango rhythms and Stravinsky’s pungent harmonies just seemed to fit together. Archetypal concepts float around in the ether. The last gasp of the victim before the final chord of death, an accordion melody symbolising both the spiritual purity and the carnal knowledge of the angel. But most importantly, making the arrangement was a delightful experiment. I tried to expand my definition of both Stravinsky and Piazzolla, and explore a link between them in the collective subconscious. In the process I had a lot of fun.

Free Piazzolla Scores can be downloaded from www.todotango.com. This site is Tango-Nirvana!

Stravinsky on his arrest in "the land of the free" for adding a different harmony to "The Star Spangled Banner"

For more on Stravinsky’s approach to rhythmic rebellion, see On the rhythm of “The Rite of Spring” by Edward Green. Stravinsky was not only rhythmically rebellious. He was arrested in Boston for changing the harmonies of The Star Spangled Banner. Apparently this law still exists in America, forbidding  reharmonisation of this anthem. This law has not been as strictly enforced in recent years. Marvin Gaye even created a reggae version (for which he was not arrested).

Links to more about the Cape Town Tango Ensemble:

Milonga del Angel-Cape Town Tango Ensemble Dancing with Angels

CT Tango Ensemble Homepage

Astor Piazzolla: Cobble Stone to Dance Floor

CT Tango Ensemble MP3’s and Video Clips

Download tracks from our first CD El Tango en Africa on Rhythm Records

Morgann Rose, Jared Nelson and Laura Urgellés in Piazzolla Caldera -© Carol Pratt

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

The word Tango conjures up many images. The word Tango tells many stories. The word Tango merely hints at the mystery of a music that has run in the bloodstream of generations. A dance of sex and violence born in the bordellos of Buenos Aires. Seduction. Murder. Handsome men in patent leather shoes and white fedoras. Hot blooded women with beautiful thighs and high heels. Two hands clasping together. Tango speaks of the body, and it speaks to the body.

The story that Tango tells is far richer than the one restricting it to the simplistic legend of brothel entertainment – although that certainly is one of it’s tales in a country where, at the start of the 20th century, male immigrants outnumbered females 8 to 1. European immigrants, mainly from Italy and Spain, flooded into Argentina hoping to cash in on the boom in the farming industry. Argentina was enormous by comparison and held promise of land, gold and prosperity – unlike Europe which was sliding into war. The sad reality was, of course, that many were unable to afford to buy the lands that would make them rich, in the first place. Homesick, poor and often unemployed, immigrants settled in working-class neighbourhoods. The colourfulness of the neighbourhoods reflected a poverty of material goods, but not of spirits. Houses were often painted in a variety of colours – left-overs from other projects. Inspired by the colour of local arts and crafts, a vibrant society developed. Along with the port-city’s natives, these people gave expression to their daily struggles. European Polkas intermingled with traditional dances to create a new hybrid. Originally danced on rough and uneven cobblestone, Tango took a long journey before it reached the smooth polished dancefloor.

Astor Piazzolla

Unlike the chequered history of the Tango, the story of one of it’s greatest exponents – Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) – gives up its secrets more willingly. Beginning and ending his life in Argentina, frames periods of study in Paris and New York, and a lifetime of travel as a concert musician. As a child his Italian father insisted that he learn the Bandoneon, the quintessential “Voice of Tango “. His virtuosity was such that already as a teenager he was given a job in Anibal Troilo’s famous Tango orchestra. Troilo is today regarded as one of the fathers of the traditional dance tango and his music is still performed regularly.

Piazzolla was obviously a highly creative teen, and was soon bored by what he considered a genre that had stagnated into formulaic gestures and was in danger of becoming extinct. He went to Paris to study “serious” classical music composition with Nadia Boulanger, probably the world’s most famous composition pedagogue. This encounter was to change the history of the Tango for ever. Boulanger was complimentary about Piazzolla’s well-crafted music, noting as his influences Bartok , Stravinsky and Ravel. At this point in his life he was still ashamed of his passion  for his “native tongue” – the Tango, and had kept his arrangements and compositions a secret. Boulanger convinced him to finally play some to her class. Reportedly she took his hands and said: “Astor, this is beautiful. Here is the true Piazzolla – do not ever leave him.” Calling this epiphany the “great revelation of my life” he returned to Argentina brimming with confidence, enthusiasm and energy.

I love Nadia Boulanger and all her stories, but for me this is one of the most touching, as the music that Piazzolla created after their encounter is, to my mind, one of the great bodies of work of the 20th Century. He took the formulas of Tango – the dance rhythms of the various styles from Milonga to the Habanera – and infused them with the pungent harmonies and cross-rhythms of the twentieth century classical masters. His new style of tango – Tango Nuevo – took the tango from the Dance Hall to the Concert Hall.

The 2003 CD Release "El Tango en Africa"

The Cape Town Tango Ensemble has been performing Piazzolla’s music for a decade, in the Dance Hall as well as the Concert Hall. Performances at Aardklop, Klein Karoo and the Grahamstown Festivals achieved much critical acclaim and excellent CD sales. Along with Mark Hoeben and Ina Wichterich through a strong collaboration with TangoCapeTown they helped create many original stage productions in South Africa. These include Tango del Fuego by Marthinus Basson for Oude Libertas Teater, and All you ever wanted to know about Tango but were too afraid to ask and Tango Experience (scripted and directed by Mark Hoeben) for the Windhoek BankFees as well as the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees. They regularly perform at dance and concert venues from Cape Town to Potchefstroom. Their first CD El Tango En Africa was released in 2003. Guest artists were Mezzo-soprano Violina Angeulov and African Percussion by Dizu Plaatjies.

The Piazzolla tracks recorded on that disc are:

Addios Nonino

Oblivion

Milonga del Anunciacion from the “Tango Operita” Maria de Buenos Aires

Chiquilin de Bachin

Libertango

The tracks can be bought in MP3 format at Rhythm Records, who also have samples for you to listen to.

The CD itself can be bought from One World Cyber Music Store or from any of the musicians in the group.

The American site CDBaby also has Mp3’s to hear.

You can also view video extracts from the show El Beso (The Kiss) produced in collaboration with El Cacha Tango Company, directed by Heinrich Riesenhofer. An electrifying “Libertango” is danced here by Nur ‘Latino’ Dreyer and Cherona Reisenhofer-Dreyer.

The Cape Town Tango Ensemble is currently working on their second album Tango Club due for release in March 2010. This CD will again feature a substantial chunk of Piazzolla’s music, as his music is central to this ensemble’s work.

Piazzolla tracks on Tango Club include:

Soledad – Solitude

Cafe 1930

Anos de Soledad – Years of Solitude

Verano Porteno – Summer in Buenos Aires

Milonga del AngelDance of the Angel

La Muerte del Angel – The Death of the Angel

Cierra tus ojos y escucha – Close your eyes and listen

Musicians on the CD include:

Stanislav Angelov – Accordion and Bandoneon

Jacek Domagala – Violin

Albert Combrink – Piano

Charles Lazar – Double Bass

James Grace – Guitar

Willie van Zyl – Saxophone

Kevin Gibson – Drums

Mark Hoeben and Ina Wichterich performing at "The Valve"