|Ástor Piazzolla with his bandoneón in 1971. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|Richard Galliano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
A few years ago one of my sons gave me a disc of the tango music of Astor Piazzolla, the man who from the 1930s rescued tango from its declining future. I played the record repeatedly until I knew every note, and was enchanted with it. Last night I had the immense good fortune to attend a concert by a man who has carried Piazzolla’s tradition on, a Frenchman by the name of Richard Galliano, who appeared in Dubrovnik with what he calls his Piazzolla Forever Septet.
I am always self-conscious when I write about music, because I am a member of that class that says of itself, I-don’t-know-anything-about-music-but I-know-what–I –like, and one thing I have discovered I like a lot is the sort of new tango as interpreted by Piazzolla, and nowadays by his successor Galliarno. The pleasure of the occasion was doubled because of the venue in which the concert took place. Dubrovnik is surrounded by a wall that runs more than 2000 yards around the old city, stands up to 72 feet in height, and is anything from 6 feet to nearly 17 feet in depth. In other words, it is an impressive structure, reputed to be one of the finest in Europe, and it is held together at certain points by a network of four ancient forts. People have lived where Dubrovnik now stands since the seventh century, and have been active since that time in repulsing attacks on it by pirates, Arabs, Normans, Serbs, Montenegrins and others on and off ever since. They were for centuries a self-governing city state, at one time with embassies throughout the known world, and the defensive works they built for themselves were constructed by some of the greatest stonemasters in history.
One of these forts, which was so strongly built that it survived the drastic earthquake of 1667 that virtually destroyed the city, is Revelin. It is notable that the fort even today is approachable only over a drawbridge that stands across what was once a moat, and once you have handed in your ticket you start on an upward journey of more than 100 steps towards your seat. You pass through some beautiful vaulted rooms that are connected by arcades, and eventually come out on a huge roof terrace that is used today for concerts and other entertainments. And it was in this seductive place that Galliano and his six musicians played in the open air overlooking the ancient city.
I had never heard of Gaalliano myself, and he appeared to be accompanied by a different group of musicians from those whose photos appeared in the programme. That didn’t matter because all of them, although French by nationality, were superb musicians who seemed totally at home with the unique rhythms and pulses of tango music.
That I had never heard of him does not signify anything except my appalling ignorance: he, like his master Piazzolla, who died in 1992, has appeared at the Montreal jazz festival several times. He was born in Cannes, France, the son of an accordion teacher, an instrument he started to play at the age of four. As his musical studies proceeded he discovered to his astonishment at the age of 14 that accordion was never accorded a place in jazz. He had a distinguished career backing up such French icons as Aznavour, Reggiani and Juliette Greco, and has played jazz alongside many modern masters, in the course of which he met Piazzolla in 1983, who advised him to return to the roots and traditional Argentine method of playing the accordion.
Last night’s programme notes implicitly gave him credit for introducing to jazz a “completely new concept of rhythm and harmonic style in order to make the accordion fit jazz.” He played three instruments last night, opening the concert with a lovely solo on some kind of South American flute, accompanied by his pianist, and later taking to the bandoneon, a type of concertina, which he could practically make talk, as well as the larger accordion.
I’ll take the programme notes at their word, because I liked very much the lively style of the music, the contrasting and constantly changing rhythms, and particularly, I loved the melancholic tone struck by both accordionist and violinists as they interposed tunes subtly with the harsher rhythms produced by the base and piano. All I can say is it was marvelous, an opinion that to judge from the huge reception given the band, was entirely shared by the capacity audience.