30 November 2022
21 November 2022
Now this post is unexpected. This is Ushuaia. Dig the location: Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, Argentina. The surrounding mountains with slips of snow are spectacular. It's great weather and the locals are out in t-shirts (not all!) even if the wind chill factor is serious around every corner. The tourists have scarves and hoods. But there's a Hard Rock Cafe and it's Saturday. One section of the main street is blocked off and there's a seriously decent PA set up. First up, we happen on the local drum band, La Famiglia del Tambor. They are having a great time, rollicking with drums of all sizes, tight as, led by a conductor, sharp and smiling with the best. Loud. But loud it is for the Municipal Band, too. Now this is no ordinary Municipal Band. First up, I thought Big Band given bari, tenor, several altos, sop saxes and a few clarinets, then I see four brass, trumpets and troms. Then surrounding them the rock rhythm section, piano, bass, guitar, drums, percussion, two singing. They start up with great grooves, reggae gets a look in, but it's mainly shades of latin, alive, loud, with decent singing. I ask the name and I'm told "the Municipal Band". It doesn't do them justice. People are dancing in the street. Behind me, more painted symbols for Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Down the road, a large meeting hall with pics of Perons. I'm somewhat confused by these stories, the Perons being variously lefty and populist and perhaps other. But there's plenty of time for all this: the sun doesn't set until 10.30pm at -55deg. This is Argentine Terra del Fuego, within a stone's throw of Chile and it's a surprising place.
PS. It turns we are celebrating the 138th anniversary of the founding of Ushuaia (12 Oct 1884).
20 November 2022
One thing I had to see was tango in BA and Mono, our bass mate, was playing just that the next day. This was a performance venue rather than a Milonga dance-cum-school so we had a band, dancers and singers: a veritable story-telling, all singing, all dancing show. The club was Cátulo Tango. We were told it's a traditional venue, frequented by locals. A decent space, plenty of set tables with red tablecloths matched by red uniforms of staff. A big raised stage in the centre as well as a curtained band stage nearby. We all arrived at 7pm for seats and to start the pics and eating, then show at 8 running on to 10, then again that community mingling after. Plenty of talk which we didn't get, of course, some jokes, introductions to composers and themes. And always that intense, intimate music. The band was violin, guitar, bandoneon, bass with solos and moving features. The guitar sounding sharp and acoustic like classical; the violin all phrases and rhythmically places notes and tones and squeaks and slides and taps, like the bass, rich in effects to spell the accents. Sometimes playing as feature, sometimes backing dancers or singers. We didn't catch the lyrics, of course, but you could feel the overt passion, as clearly also the dancers. We think of love and sex and the themes of tango and they are there, but there are also amusements and playfulness, as in two women dancing with one man, or the simple joy of dancing of two women together or the overt sexual rivalry of two men at one time. We'd been told this was a classy night. The dancers (three women, two men) included three internationals, one a world champion form Holland, no less. And again the interactions with audience to announce birthdays and to welcome a famed tango composer. And ultimately, an end with Piazzola Libertango and all manner of community pics and chatter for the next half hour or so. For this is something I enjoyed immensely, how everyone would congregate after, chatting, laughing, meeting, selfy-ing. Like at our jazz the night before. So a fascinating and unique and relevant local experience that nonetheless expressed a very international style, tango, known by many, not least the jazz scene. But the real thing was different from the jazz interpretation that I know; more intense, more immediate, deeply sensual. A wonderful find. Thanks to Mono for the invitation to this one.
The tango performance was at band was at Cátulo Tango in Buenos Aires. The band comprised Estebon Morgado (guitar), Quique Condomi (violin), Augustin Gil (bandoneon) and Mono Hurtado (bass). The singers were Leandro Ponte and Rosana Fontan (vocals). The dancers were Maricel Giacomini, Katherine Laytón, Guillermina van der Linden, C Jose Carlos and Romero Vedia (Carlinho).
19 November 2022
I chose a jazz club close to our hotel but then we moved. The new club had a tribute to Bessie Smith, apt for Megan, but in the end wasn't open that night. Maybe for the best: the club was only weekend hotel. So we ended at my first choice. Again a tribute, this time to Gato Barbieri, the Argentinian tenorist. I had known of GB during his softer era of soul and smooth jazz in the '70s so the tribute gig and reading of his early days with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley and the likes was an eye-opener. Not free jazz, but calls to it. There was melody here, but floating segments, strong dynamics and well shared solo passages and outlandish power throughout. Pablo played alto and soprano saxes, all extended arpeggios and full range and insistent and intense. Pianist Pepe read rich charts and improvised aptly against them, telling the story of the tune with authenticity beyond just running chords. Drummer Carto played often for colour or for melodic effect. His solo entry for one piece was a dream, all sharp, diverse with rim shots and tonal drum colours interspersed with delirious fills. But I was watching Mono mostly: he was bass. There was (French) bowing that clearly said tango and busy, rhythmic, burbling playing that intrigued me, not so much from left hand, although that was well formed and accurate, but from a unique right hand pizz action, sometimes the extended two fingers but balling into a fist for three finger pizz, all rhythmic dissection and colouration. No idea of action or strings. Stunning stuff. I've never seen the like and a wonder, especially in this context. Again excuse the bass-centrality, but we all know it's inevitable (!) And I should mention the bar, Prez Jazz Club, pretty central, in a basement, nicely decked out and some snacks and grog on tap, and obviously a real community of jazz lovers. Complete with CDs on an old stereo to settle after the gig. This will be my jazz outing for BA and I seriously lucked out.
Pablo Ledesma (saxos), Pepe Angelillo (piano), Mono Hurtado (contrabajo) and Carto Brandán (batería) played a tribute to Gato Barbieri at Prez Jazz Club in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
18 November 2022
Visiting any new city is a haze until you get a little knowledge under your sleeves. Buenos Aires is like any other in this. But it's also very big and looking like it's seen better times. BA's metropolitan population is 16m, a full third of the population of Argentina, and inflation is running at 100% pa. Yes, it's seen better times. As comfy tourists, we are in a richer and safer area, so we see galleries and glitzy restaurants and we've taken tours and seen gloriously classy bars with the well-dressed lounging. But there's still a pall. We are warned about walking after restaurants close (midnight) and about some poorer areas, but they are tourist taps in the day. So the mecca of La Boca with Maradona's stadium, Boca Jnr. La Boca is the obvious home for bandoneon, too, that button accordion that's the heart of the tango. I caught Miguel Angel Yofre playing Carlos Gardel / Alfredo La Pera songs on a hundred year old instrument, all ravaged buttons but pretty and sounding a charm. And this is a religious country. We are told 80% claim Christianity (66% Catholic; 15% no religion) and the Pope is from here even if it doesn't particularly look it, but there are churches and one caught my eye, all Spanish styled, florid, baroque with relics. We also hear of the Mothers of the Plaza del Mayo who protest children and grandchildren lost during military dictatorship, and see bullet holes on walls from Peron's days and drive on to avoid being trapped by a Union march for better wages to deal with inflation. On the other hand, my search for Jazz clubs reveals plenty and for Tango shows and also Milongas (tango schools-cum-clubs) reveal more and a waitress lauds the musical community and we meet fans outside the Hyatt awaiting Ricky Martin (!) And there are lots of dachshunds to meet (admiring someone's dog is our sure-fire way to meet the locals). Oh, and the time difference is a stunner (14 hours). Just passing through, really, but thus is Day 1.
In Buenos Aires in passage. Miguel Angel Yofre (bandoneon) played for visitors in La Boca.
12 November 2022
There was spontaneous applause when the curtain rose well before the performance in the theatre. We were not alone in missing these popular extravaganzas, even if I had met some who equated the solo act showtimes with their solo acts with the authentic production shows. They obviously were new cruisers. Now, production shows like this are presented at casinos and the like. Not Shakespeare, but popular and involving and production-wise, stunning. This was all that and perhaps the best I've seen but I only know them from cruises. This was named Fantastic Journey, starting with a 180deg projection and a computer-generated skull speaking. Big deal; this is a new ship laid up for Covid, but the tech shows. Incredible sound, digital samples, clearly composition in the box, lighting and strobes and the performance, costumes, dancing, singing, more projections. Just awe-inspiring, stunning throughout. There was a James Bond number (the staged violence didn't appeal), a cute boy-meets-girl thing, someone mentioned Il Divo and Lady Gaga (describing the women's white costumes as extravagant doesn't do it justice), even I recognised Michael Jackson, so there were derivations, but the quality, the intensity, the aural and visual experience took my breathe away. I drooled over the sound, toyed with the sampled composition, was in awe at some of the accuracy of the references, again overwhelmed by dance and show and vocals. Approx 5 male, 5 female dancers, 2 feature singers and about 5 others, perhaps, and sound and lighting and backstage and composition and all the rest for such a performance. Hard to do justice to all the latest excesses of such theatre. Awesome is probably the word. Oh, and the drones! Wow. Like lions and Colosseums of the time, perhaps; awesome, popular, populist genius. I loved it.
Then we all got Covid.
Fantastic Journey was a production show on the Majestic Princess.
10 November 2022
The House band is always the theatrical support, the readers, the jazzers. This one was led by Argentinian bassist Emilio. He'd just taken possession of a new hand-made six-string fretted, 30-inch scale, modern design, neck through, kitted with flatwounds. I didn't recognise the pickups he named (like Bartolini) and don't recall the preamp. Thus do two bassist speak! He's also the head off music on board. We chatted about more and broader things than just music, learning of Argentina and family, not least an aunt who has performed as Evita and more on Broadway and the West End. Very cool. And his interest in composition, experimental, contemporary, if I understood correctly. So an interesting interaction. The band was made up as a recent combination: tenor and drums from US (Chicago?), guitar from Poland. Not sure of the trom. I haven't caught them yet in a reading role but maybe will tonight (the curtain is fixed!) but they have done light jazz in the main Piazza and more challenging and interesting outings in another, smaller, later hour bar. Good stuff.
Perhaps my most immediate joy is from Meridian. It's a pop/covers sextet with male and female vocals, guitar, bass, keys, drums. The core, keys, bass, drums, is from Liverpool and presumably pulled the band together for cruising. The singers and guitar have just been with them for a month or so. Nonetheless, they have an impressive repertoire of hits of the decades and do it well. A male vocalist with an unusually high voice that combines well with a higher female with a cutting, slightly nasal but pleasant voice and a guitar to let go for solo. The backing otherwise is solid and supportive and constant, as befits the music. Just great fun with a playlist to entertain and authentic arrangements and interpretations. Fun. Beatles, ABBA, Blame it on the boogie or Motown or more; I thoroughly enjoyed this band.
The House Band were led by Emilio Rivas (bass) with Sebastian Turowski (guitar), Dylan Loew (alto), Toby Carr (trombone) and Robert Fletcher (drums). Meridian comprised Jay Hepple and Savanah Bullough (vocals), Robert Tew (guitar), Matt Smith (keys), Alex Mietke (bass) and Josh Holcroft (drums). They performed on the Majestic Princess.
This is CJBlog post no. 2,550
08 November 2022
I didn't expect authentic latin sensibility with an outfit called the Pacific Duo but it we did get it and it was impressive. Yadira (Clara) Delgado sang to the accompaniment of Juan Carlos Alvavado on keys. We got a range of latin tunes, bossas, tangos, Cuban, some standards. Some authentic singing but also that unique stylistic awareness of latin. Obviously authentic and learnt in place. Juan played piano with synth accompaniment for a bass line and drum machine. The bass line was not overly complex but the solos and piano presence was, all latin timing and syncopations and telling harmonies and dissonances. Al this tends to happen in the presence of chatter and bar talk, but his style was real, reminding me of complex movements and interplays of samba and like bands and associated dances. Not at all the often tame jazzy takes on latin that I know and sometimes play but an avalanche of colour and movement that is what this music is, but still somewhat unexpected and too seldom heard in my place. There's considerable latin presence in Canberra. I think maybe I should get out for it for this was exciting and an eye-opener.
More classical with the string trio called Capriccio. Three women, violin, viola, cello, playing popular but worthy musics, Mozart and the like. Decent players, well trained, Ukrainian (odd how often they are Eastern European and women, presumably given their training and perhaps other opportunities), pleasant and capable. Then another gig that surprised me. They played Beatles, Michael Jackson and more. I heard a dirty bass-cum-cello on Billie Jean and was taken aback. I looked for a pedal but there was none. Then I noticed drums, so a backing track, and the recorded bass was that dirt. So not quite that authentic but diverse. They didn't express a particular love for these pop styles, but they played them. So be it. This is pleasant music, yes, but not trivial, and they are capable players, so they had a decent, quiet following and I was one.
Yadira (Clara) Delgado (vocals) was accompanied by Juan Carlos Alvavado (piano, keys, e-drums) as Pacific Duo. Capriccio String Trio comprised Margaret Maidink (violin), Maryana Yenkalo (viola) and Elena Beduschenko (cello). They performed on the Majestic Princess.