Tomás Cotik & Tao Lin: Astor Piazzolla: Legacy

It says much about Tomás Cotik's playing on this Piazzolla homage that it pretty much matches the phenomenal playing of Fernando Suárez Paz, the Nuevo tango master's last violinist—no small accomplishment. But if anyone is capable of doing so, it's the Argentinean-born Cotik, who's lived and breathed Piazzolla's music for the better part of his life. Legacy isn't the first time, by the way, Cotik and Chinese-American pianist Tao Lin have tackled Piazzolla, as their earlier Tango Nuevo was so well-received they no doubt felt inspired to produce a second set, this one coinciding with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the composer's passing.

There's no question Cotik possesses the technical facility to play these pieces, but to do justice to Piazzolla more must be done than simply play the notes on the page; what's critical is to capture the feeling of his music, and on that count Cotik excels. The expansive emotional terrain embodied by Piazzolla's compositions, from romantic tenderness and longing to violent passion, are rendered rapturously by Cotik, and it's this that argues most vehemently on behalf of Legacy. His virtuosity and singing tone are displayed to glorious effect throughout the hour-long recording, whether it be the high-energy syncopations of “Escualo” (Shark) or the romantic languor of “Vardarito,” the former titled in tribute to Paz and the latter after violinist Elvino Vardaro, a member of Piazzolla's Octet and his first Quintet during the late ‘50s.

While the recording is dominated by duos, a number of settings find double bassist Jeffrey Kipperman and percussionists Alex Wadner and Bradley Loudis participating, their contributions doing much to bring the familiar sonorities of Piazzolla's music to life. Whereas the sultry passages of “Vardarito” are executed by the duo alone, for example, the animated sequences are invigorated by the inclusion of rhythmic resources.

Piazzolla came by his classical credentials honestly, having studied with Alberto Ginastera and in Paris with Nadia Boulanger in 1954, and so the occasional emergence of classical elements in his work shouldn't come as a surprise; one naturally thinks of Vivaldi when presented with the twenty-two-minute suite Las cuatro estaciones porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires), for instance, which encompasses the full range of Piazzolla's world, from its playful and sensual sides to melancholy and wistfulness.

Yet while there are moments that convey classical elegance (witness the coda to “Invierno porteño”), just as many suggest the grittier aspects of Argentine life, from lustful desires associated with the bordello to the dangers of underground criminality. (Let's not forget that though Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, about 250 miles south of Buenos Aires, his family moved when he was four years old to New York's Lower East Side, a move that ostensibly introduced the child early on to a locale teeming with gangsters and other unsavoury types.)

Many of the settings possess interesting backgrounds, among them “Jeanne y Paul,” which Piazzolla wrote for Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (not used because a score had already been created by saxophonist Gato Barbieri), and “Balada para un loco” (Ballad for a Madman), whose arrangement threads Alfredo Lerida's dramatic spoken performance of poet Horacio Ferrer's words in amongst the musical parts. (Though an English translation can be found online of the Castilian Spanish text, ideally one would have been included with the release itself.)

Among the standouts is the beautiful “Milonga del ángel,” surely one of Piazzolla's most adored compositions. Lin's value is perhaps most apparent here, specifically in the way he replicates the original arrangement's bandoneon part while Cotik delivers the lyrical lead with heartfelt conviction; lovely too is “Introducción al ángel,” which the duo and Kipperman render in stately manner. One imagines the Nuevo tango master would be as captivated as any listener by such exquisite performances.

November 2017