In early October I dropped in on the City of Bridges to hear some great live tango orchestras. This year’s Portland Tango Festival showcased some fabulous live music: el Quarteto Alejandro Ziegler, and the Alex Krebs Orchestra. Alejandro Ziegler, on piano, evokes the sound of his papá Pablo Ziegler, renowned Argentine pianist and composer who laid down lots of amazing tracks with Astor Piazzolla. Apologies up front: I just can’t talk about Alejandro without mentioning his world famous progenitor, Pablo Ziegler.
Pablo Ziegler worked intensively as Astor Piazzolla’s pianist from 1978 until the maestro’s retirement for health reasons in 1989. Ziegler’s playing style, both sharply percussive and metallically lyrical, is instantly recognizable to fans of tango nuevo. In 2003 Ziegler won a Latin Grammy for his amazing album Bajo Cero. Ziegler plays in the Jazz tradition, always improvising, arranging and rearranging his compositions on the fly, in the moment. He encourages musicians to find their own voice. His music is melancholy, evocative, far-reaching. It speaks directly to our hearts and souls: nos afecta profundamente, como una puñalada en el corazón. Opera has that effect on me too… the tears just come down, you can’t help it. Dancing a slow tango to Ziegler’s version of Oblivion or Soledad in the wee hours, well, it just doesn’t get any better than that, does it?
“I always tell musicians: You’re free to change whatever you like. I can give you some examples of the way to phrase, but if you feel something different, just play. Probably it’s fantastic. That’s one of the ways that I’m learning also from the musicians, too. Sometimes they’re playing and I like it that way. It’s a very open way to play music. If I bring some Beethoven piano concerto, everybody knows the way to play that kind of music, which is very strict. But with this music, we have to feel it and do something different. I’m giving them that chance.” (Pablo Ziegler, from an interview by Frank J. Oteri, Brooklyn, NY. June 13, 2014) (www.newmusicbox.org/articles/pablo-ziegler-making-the-music-dance/)
Ziegler’s most notable recordings with Piazzolla include:
• Tristezas de un Doble A
• The New Tango with Gary Burton, recorded live at the 1986 Montreux Festival
• The Central Park Concert recorded in 1987
The influence of Astor Piazzolla and Pablo Ziegler is unmistakeable in the sound of the Quarteto Alejandro Ziegler. They absolutely knocked the walls down Sunday evening with their fabulous Buenos Aires sound!
Photos by Jerry Berggen, courtesy of “Tango Steps,” the newsletter of the Lincoln Tango Club, Lincoln, NE. (And he can dance, too!)
I can testify that there really IS tango in Nebraska, because one wintry night a couple of years ago, driving across country, I had a few nice tandas at a milonga in a really cool urban space in Lincoln. (Note to Self: don’t EVER do that again. The drive, I mean.)
The Alejandro Ziegler Quartet headed to Lincoln to play the following weekend. I’ve got relatives just across the border in Indian Country, so I’ve been there many times. Have you ever seen Carhenge?
You, me and a few spaceship-loads of aliens on invisible tours of Planet Earth! Uh-oh, am I getting wonky again? Back to the subject at hand: the phenomenal Quarteto Alejandro Ziegler.
These guys were coherent, fine-tuned, on a roll, in other words, maravillosos! I’m really kicking myself that I didn’t buy one of their CDs. Uff! I couldn’t find them on itunes either. Idiota!
The Alex Krebs Orchestra rocked Norse Hall to a huge and appreciative crowd on Saturday night. Love the singers, especially the guy with the Dalí moustache. They sound better than ever. The Portland tango community is lucky to have such a great house band.
Alex has his own milonga called Tango Berretín.
Here’s what I liked about the Portland Tango Fest:
•fabulous space: Norse Hall
•great live music
•evening milongas started at 9 or 10 and went to 6 am… yeah night owls!
•classes started at 11:00 am, for obvious reasons. I mean, who really gets up for a 9:00 am class or workshop?!? pas moi!
•there were 2 or 3 classes going simultaneously. Beginners had their own workshops tailored to their learning styles. This is a good thing.
•Did I forget to mention, LOTS of FABULOUS Tango dancers! Thanks to all of you for the great tandas, you KNOW who YOU are!!!
•The gala evening demos were less than impressive. Comedy, acrobatics and tango selfies are no substitute for style and elegance. I think our traveling tangueros need to head home every now and then to remember how it’s done in Buenos Aires.
FEEL the connection… to your partner, to the floor, to the other dancers, to the music, to the musicians, to your own heart. FEEL the floor. FEEL the music. FEEL the emotion… disconnect your thoughts and let sound be your oxygen… just Breathe.
And what’s not to like about Portland in the early Fall? The sun sparkled on the river radiating perfect warmth throughout the city — not too hot, not too cold. You didn’t need a jacket, except maybe leaving the milongas in the early morning cool. The adorable streetcars and Powell’s City of Books were every bit as wonderful as ever.
Bye bye, Portland, till next time!
A few days later I found myself on the east coast suffering the throes of tango withdrawals. Needless to say, I wasn’t in Miami, that throbbing hotspot of tango cool. No, I was just a senseless misplaced pawn on a giant Monopoly board. I’m still in recovery from visiting the Sunshine State. One is bombarded with hyper-signage everywhere, and I mean everywhere. PR on steroids. The land of Madmen from Planet Dollar $ign. No cool cafés, no quaint cobblestoned villages, just shopping, greasy fast food, gated beachfront properties, Big Box churches and Big Box stores. The beach is beautiful, to be sure, but driving is the only way to get around… unless you’ve got a beak and a pair of wings. And the tango scene in northern Florida can only be described as, well… pitiful? nonexistent? Sorry, Sunshine!
Please excuse the nonsense bubbling up from the uber-consciousness waystation I like to call my mind…. The only thing I wanted to take with me from Florida was Mai Tiki Bar on the Cocoa Beach Pier.
How cute is that! And, a couple of adorable kids!
This gatorade fest I did NOT want to take with me.
Are they on Shrooms? Zoloft? Marie Callendar?
I touched down at Ezeiza two weeks ago, shifting into high gear once more, back to the Mecca of Tango: Buenos Aires. Highlights from my next post:
Buenas noches from Buenos Aires!