New music and delivery sharpens the ‘Critical Ear’

I have often pointed out that modern music lovers live in the best of all possible worlds, at least in terms of hearing the kinds of music which inspire and delight them.

Sadly, in many ways, in our modern world, the way in which music is reproduced changes every few years. These changes which are labeled “improvements,” usually make only slight changes in the quality of sound reproduction, and frankly, often seem more oriented to forcing people to buy new and more expensive machinery, in order to listen.

I know there are people who are passionately devoted to traditional records or to reel-to-reel or cassette tapes and even to compact discs. At the moment, the favored method of production of sound is by computers, in which the listener downloads an audio file on a computer or computer-managed device. I understand that each of those methods adds to the sound which the listener hears and many people come to love music which is accompanied by the rasp of a phonographic needle or by the hiss of tape, gliding past a tape head.

The ease of electronic recording has made the opportunity to create recordings available to artists who otherwise would never be able to put their music out to the public, except by performing live, in whatever performance venues will allow them to perform. By contrast, there is now so much music available that even the most discriminating listener has difficulty separating out the sounds he loves from the sounds which appeal to others.

In many ways, the mass of material and the sometimes violent feelings of individual listeners make it easier to write about only live performances. But, in truth, more people listen to one form or another of recorded music than any other form, so from time to time, we still dare to dip a toe into reviewing recordings.

Let’s take a quick look at what is new and available, at this time:

TANGO NUEVO

The tango is best known in the U.S. as a dance form, although a character who is a tango singer in the Broadway musical “Evita” introduced many of us to the idea that there are other elements of tango, as well.

Tango as we know it, originated in the area in which the South American countries of Argentina and Uruguay intersect. Most references associate it with Argentina. The first references to the style I could find came from the last years of the 19th century.

The style is often associated with blue collar and workingman audiences, although the many styles of tango have made it popular everywhere from inexpensive cantinas to the grand ballrooms of elegant hotels and the concert halls of symphony orchestras.

Just to name a few of the styles of tango which have been identified, there are Tango de Salon, Tango Canyangue, Ballroom Tango, Tango Finland, Tango Liso, and Tango Oriental, also known as the Uruguayan Tango. All are rhythmic, and most are performed rapidly, requiring intricate steps which dancers must practice extensively, in order not to fall, while dancing.

Argentine classical violinist Tomas Cotik has recently released a recording of 15 compositions by Argentine-born composer Astor Piazzolla, (1921-92) and if your knowledge of the style goes further than Leroy Anderson’s famous “Blue Tango,” Piazzolla is probably the name you know best.

Cotik performs his 15 works, largely as solos, accompanied by pianist Tao Lin, although violinist Glenn Basham is involved in some selections, as well. Probably the musical instrument which is most closely associated with the style is the concertina-like sound of the bandoneon, which is completely absent from this recording.

Piazzola was a successful performer of music for tango, while studying with Argentine composer Ginastera, until he temporarily foreswore the style and traveled to Europe, where he studied with classical composer and pianist Nadia Boulanger, and attended many of the jazz clubs and similar venues, to be found in Paris. Musician after musician, including Boulanger, urged him to return to tango and to incorporate elements of classical music, jazz and other forms which he encountered in his Paris studies. He eventually did so.

I like Cotik’s recording very much. The Tango Nuevo or “New Tango” is that which includes the influence of jazz, klezmer, and other European and non-Latin qualities. The driving rhythms of tango are present throughout and it can guide a listener’s mood from pensive and intense to emotional and excited, with ease. The violin’s tone is precise and clean. The interaction with the piano is similar to the intricacy with which the feet of tango dancers often intertwine.

The technical qualities of the recording – which is on the NAXOS label, by the way – are excellent. The only minor dissatisfaction which I had with the approximately 60-minute recording is that there is no variation from the violin-piano sound, which can wear on one, a bit, in an hour of listening.

Still, it’s an exciting listen and I think most of our readers would enjoy it very much. Find it for purchase or for download, from the NAXOS catalog, with the number 8.573166.

COME HOME AMERICA

Singer Marcus Goldhaber has many fans in our area, in part from the years he spent earning his BFA degree from the State University of New York at Fredonia. A native of Buffalo, Goldhaber has built a successful career in the jazz-pop style and a number of readers have contacted me to say they attended one of his regular performances in New York City or spent New Year’s Eve at an event in which he participated, to tell me how much they enjoyed his singing.

Back around Veterans Day, Goldhaber made a venture into a different sort of sound. He has released a single titled “Come Home America,” which endeavors to welcome home America’s fighting forces from theaters of wars half a world away. The song has both words and music written by the singer. Related to its release, he has been invited to be part of New York City’s Veterans Day Parade and appeared on the 7th Annual Heroes Gala, hosted by Brian Williams and Jon Stewart.

On Memorial Day, the singer is scheduled to release a full album of music in similar style and to launch a year-long personal tour of concert halls, stadiums, military bases and parades. The song is neither a political statement nor in any way judgmental. It simply praises the sacrifices which have been made by veterans and their families, recognizes a debt to them and celebrates those who are able to return to their regular lives.

The music is appealing, rather than manipulative – no blasting trumpets or rumbling drums – and the lyrics are easy to hear and understand. The recording was made in Nashville and has a hint of the Nashville sound to it, although it’s not out-and-out country, by any means.

You can obtain a copy of the song through Goldhaber’s own web site, at www.marcusgoldhaber.com and can follow his progress toward the release of the album and his plans for his national tour.

MOST WONDERFUL TIME

There is a belief in some elements of the performing arts industry, that products relating to Christmas are cash cows, in which artists can toss together almost anything with a holiday theme and the public will eat it up.

This is why many people often leave the holiday season feeling as though they’ve heard more “Silent Nights” than they ever want to hear again, let alone any “Frosty the Snow Man” choices.

This year, I received a disk which had a very different sound. “Most Wonderful Time” is a release by the Eaken Piano Trio. Those musicians have been performing together for 27 years, including international tours and performances at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

Just one of their holiday releases, “Most Wonderful Time” uses the classical piano trio sound to approach both traditional favorites such as “Jingle Bells,” “Joy to the World” and less known works, such as Sir Edward Elgar’s “The Snow” and Ottorino Respighi’s “L’Adoration dei Magi,” as well as a number of Jewish works, such as ‘the traditional ‘Avinu Malkeinu” and Allen W. Menton’s “Avi Hidlik.”

You wouldn’t want this to be your only holiday album, but if you shuffle its sounds into your holiday mix, it gives a welcome new and fresh perspective. The musicianship is outstanding.

The recording is on the Con Brio label. Find out more about it at the trio’s web site www.eakenpianotrio.com.

UMBRELLAS IN MINT

Readers who prefer a jazzier sound may want to look into a new release by chanteuse Lisa Kirchner.

When you hear her unique sound, it’s easy to picture Kirchner leaning in the bend of a grand piano, cooing her original music out at a sophisticated and enthusiastic audience.

She has a bright quality to her voice, although she can pull that back and sing the blues when it enters her head. In this album, she offers a dozen original pieces, accompanied by pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Vincente Archer, drummer Willie Jones III, saxophonist Sherman Irby and guitarist Ron Jackson.

She has a sound which can inspire thoughts of New York City in the rain or Paris with chestnut trees in blossom. The album is a mood changer, especially if you’re feeling a bit “done there, seen that.”

“Umbrellas in Mint” is released by Verdant World Records,” with catalog number VWR003.

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Looking for something elegant and upscale to do with your sweetie for Valentine’s Day?

Kleinhans Music Hall, the performing home of the Buffalo Philharmonic, is planning to offer a dinner dance, that evening, in their beautiful Mary Seaton Room.

Dinner will be catered by Oliver’s Restaurant and will include carving stations, salad, dessert and a glass of champagne. Music will be provided by the Jim Tudini Big Band, featuring Bobby Militello. The cash bar opens at 6:30 p.m., dinner is served at 7 p.m. and dancing continues through 11 p.m. Parking is free. Proceeds from the event will benefit Kleinhans Music Hall. Cost is $179 per couple.

To reserve space, phone 885-0331, ext. 424 or visit the hall’s web site at www.kleinhansbuffalo.org.

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Speaking of Kleinhans and the BPO, the orchestra will be holding auditions in that hall, on Monday, from 4 to 6 p.m. Sadly, the deadline to apply for audition space was last Wednesday and we only got the announcement in time for this column.

However, if you have talent which is going to shake the orchestra into making an exception for you, you’re supposed to email a headshot and resume to vocalauditionsbpo.com. If you are granted an audition, you should take with you a short selection to sing, plus either live or recorded accompaniment.

Also, the BPO will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King with a free concert, tomorrow at 6 p.m. at Kleinhans Music Hall. The BPO Chorus will perform with the orchestra, as well as musicians, dancers and actors from the Buffalo Community. The Mayor of Buffalo will deliver a short address during the performance.

Students and community leaders will be recognized for their contributions to the advancement of Dr. King’s dream.

Still concerning the orchestra, they have recently announced that in the fiscal year which recently closed, the orchestra finished the year in the black and has declared a surplus of $24,000. This was true, despite a drop of nearly $100,000 in government support for the orchestra, to the lowest level in a decade.

The orchestra performed approximately 100 times in the year past, with an average attendance of approximately 1,800.

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Lovers of opera should mark Feb. 8 on their calendars. On that day, Western New York native Renee Fleming will sing the title role in Antonin Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka,” with the company and orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, in New York City.

The performance will be broadcast live and in high definition to sites all around the world. The only participating site in Chautauqua County is the 1891 Fredonia Opera House in Fredonia.

The performance begins at 12:55 p.m. and will include interviews and looks behind the scenes at the performance, before curtain time and during intermission.

Admission is $20 for the general public, $18 for members of the Opera House and $15 for students. Phone the Opera House at 679-0891 or visit www.fredopera.org.