Thursday, November 15, 2012

Todo Corazon

Well there it is. The tango album, or at least the cover. The album itself will be out early in 2013. I finished mastering yesterday and have to listen to it once more before it is official. But going through all of the tracks, doing a bit of final adjustments to the mix and then balancing the entire CD for volume gave me a chance to really listen to what me and the musicians accomplished. For those of you who don't want to dig through earlier blogs on the project a quick review.

The idea of the tango album goes back a few years when Jochen Becker of Zoho records met me at a conference and in conversation recommended that I think about doing a tango album. I have had a long friendship with Jochen, surprisingly based on his turning down my album Algo Mas, recorded in 2004. I have approached Zoho at the suggestion of Bobby Sanabria who played an important role in that record by suggesting that I contact Pedrito Martinez who ended up co-producing the record with me. I had asked Bobby who was the guy in NYC that knew the most about folkloric Cuban music and who had the most open mind. Bobby told me that Pedrito was the guy, and he couldn't have been more on target. Pedrito organized the drummers, sang and played and picked the toques de santo that constituted half of the album (the other half was rumba).

In any event, when Jochen heard the music he loved it, but felt that with the folkloric vocals is wasn't right for the label. That's when I connected with Jazzheads, forming the productive relationship that has resulted in 8 CD's on the label so far, with more to come. Jochen was very friendly with me ever since, which reflects what a great guy he is and who supportive many of the independent record company's are of each others efforts to survive in the abysmal music market of recent years. I asked Jochen who he knew that could facilitate a tango recording and he suggested one of his recoding artists, bassist Pablo Aslan. Pablo has had a number of successful tango albums, winning nomination in both the Grammy and the Latin Grammy.

Pablo agreed to the project and selected classic tango material including tangos written in the early 1900's. I've discussed the process in earlier posts and included some photos from the session that I hope you will check out. But for now I just want to post the liner notes which give you another perspective on the material. They are by jazz critic and tango historian Fernando Gonzalez.

Mark Weinstein Todo Corazón

Mark Weinstein does things his way.
Even a cursory look at his personal story and professional career suggests a mix of a curious, restless mind and the talent and determination to build on his choices.
Not surprisingly, Todo Corazón is not a conventional tango album.
It is framed by the tango tradition. It features a classic, unimpeachable repertoire and a terrific ensemble comprised of musicians who not only know the vocabulary  of tango but its old ways and backstories. And the settings echo the very beginnings of this music — the first ensembles at the turn of the 20th century featured flute, violin and guitar — but also play to its present, as tango continues to open up to the harmonies and improvisation in jazz.
And then, to all this, Weinstein brings his own vision and his own sound.
“When I play music, I want to feel I have the absolute freedom to put myself into that music, whatever the style,” he explains. “I never try to copy or mimic what other people do. I try to get inside the music and take ownership as an improviser.”
As he once explained to Chip Boaz in an interview: “I don’t play Cuban music; I play jazz to Cuban music. I don’t play Brazilian music; I play jazz to Brazilian music. … I don’t play Jewish music; I play jazz to Jewish music. What I mean is that I keep the form completely intact, but then have the freedom to do whatever I want.”
As for his flute playing, Weinstein, a former bass and trombone player, picked up the instrument at 34, at a time he was transitioning from full-time musician to graduate student for his PhD in Philosophy. He is completely self-taught. 
In those days I was playing the flute to take a break from writing my dissertation,” he says. “I never took a flute lesson. Nobody showed me the fingerings. I just did it.”
He doesn’t have the rounded, tightly focused classical sound or a conventional jazz approach. If anything, his sound is closer to that of Jeremy Steig, one of his role models, than Hubert Laws or James Moody.
“I haven’t been able to get that classical sound. I wish I could — but I can’t,” he says. “But because of it, what I do when I record is play with a range of sounds and a generally warmer sound.”
After years of exploring African, Brazilian and Caribbean music, Weinstein saw an opportunity in tango. Playing and recording drum- and percussion- heavy genres inevitably limits flute players to the high register and takes away the more nuanced, expressive possibilities of the instrument.
On the other hand, playing in a drum-less setting has its own challenges.
It’s not only that there’s a different way of setting the groove and driving the music but, in tango, the melodies and the dancing, true or implied, are often what sets the tempo and its variations.
Still, for Weinstein, recording a tango album was a chance for the flute to be heard.
“For better or for worse, it was an opportunity to put my flute sound for people to hear and approach the songs in different ways, with different sounds.”
As a showcase, bassist, arranger, co-producer and Grammy and Latin Grammy nominee Pablo Aslan chose a rich program.
It includes gems such as “La Viruta,” written by Vicente Greco in 1912, or “Los Mareados,” a 1940s classic by Juan Carlos Cobián and Enrique Cadícamo, but also “Onda Nueve,” a piece by New Tango master Astor Piazzolla composed in 1972.
And, smartly, Weinstein is set here with a mixed approach: some tracks are craftily arranged and some are a la parrilla,  (literally “grilled”), which is tango’s version of a head arrangement and, in the limited way of the traditional style, improvising.
Weinstein plays off his strong supporting cast featuring pianist Abel Rogantini, Latin Grammy winner bandoneonist Raul Jaurena, guitarist Francisco Navarro and Aslan.
Their tango playing sounds grounded, lived-in, and Weinstein lets them account for the tradition, not only when presenting the pieces but in their improvisations. Meanwhile, he takes a personal tack: not quite staying strictly within the boundaries of the tango vocabulary, but not forcing bebop on it either.
He plays it close to idiomatically on the title track and “El Llorón,” taken here with a canyengue feel, a hard-driving approach that goes back to the rough, early tango dance styles. He builds a delicate filigree in “Cristal” and whispers darkly on the bass flute in “Gricel,” a rare love-story-gone-right.
As a whole, his playing is distinct and hard to classify.
What this recording is not is an intellectual exercise.
This is all about the heart. It´s about the permission for “unabashed romance,” as Weinstein puts it, that tango grants. It’s right there in the title.
What you hear, front and center, is Todo Corazón.

Fernando Gonzalez

Fernando Gonzalez is a writer and critic whose work appears regularly in The Miami Herald, JazzTimes and The International Review of Music. He is the translator and annotator of Astor Piazzolla’s autobiography A Memoir (Astor Piazzolla: A manera de memorias) as told to Natalio Gorín.