Sunday, October 5, 2014

Bulletins From BA #36

Bulletins From BA #36
06 octubre 2014

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.

Living in a city of 12 million people is not without cultural advantages. Although we don’t go out as often as we could (there being, after all, the day job thing), we do venture forth to events of particular significance. For example, we had the opportunity to attend, in the space of one week, concerts by two of the greatest accordionists on the planet. How could we not.

Raúl Barboza - Barboza is the undisputed master of Chamamé, a type of folk music from the Argentine northeastern provinces. Born in 1938 in Buenos Aires, he began playing at the age of seven, made his first recording at twelve, and formed his own group at fifteen. He has lived and performed all over the world, made dozens of recordings, and accompanied vocalists as varied as José Carrera, Mercedes Sosa, and - my favorite - Cesaria Evora. Raúl Barboza is a musical virtuoso of the highest order.

Barboza performed with a guitarist (Nardo González) and bassist (Roy Valenzuela), both excellent players. I recognized most of the selections as having their origins in Chamamé, but he took the music in so many different, interesting, and unexpected directions that it hardly mattered. The audience was composed of fans and, as is always the case in Buenos Aires, they were not the least reticent about shouting out requests. Barboza is also a real showman, so of course he obliged. And, after four or five encores, he ended the show by bringing his chair to the front of the stage and playing, without amplification, a very quiet and haunting selection. Perfección.

[Sidebar - As a child in Buenos Aires, Barboza naturally wanted to play the bandoneon. But since they are made only in adult sizes, he settled instead on the chromatic button accordion.]

Chango Spasiuk - Born in 1968 in La Provincia de Misiones, Spasiuk grew up playing polkas (Ukrainian grandparents) as well as Chamamé. He plays a standard piano accordion and is just terrific. He is also a wonderful composer and the concert, an album release event, consisted in the main of his original work, both for his sextet and the equally outstanding 11-piece Ensamble Estación Buenos Aires, conducted by Popi Spatocco, who also did the excellent arrangements.

[Sonic Sidebar - When will sound mixers ever learn that it is entirely inappropriate to amplify bass and percussion to Rock & Roll levels for an acoustic ensemble? Seriously, that shit is disrespectful, distracting and totally uncalled for.]

The music itself was alternately high-energy and quietly emotional, usually within the same composition. It was also great fun and the audience was exuberant and fully engaged. For me, the high point of the performance was reached during a hushed duet between Spasiuk and guest violín solista Rafael Gintoni, a thrilling instrumentalist. There came a moment of aching beauty when the two musicians seemed to be holding each other’s breathes in their hands. Delicadeza sublime.

Seeing artists of this caliber in person just reinforces for me an unavoidable truth: After 60 years, más o menos, I still have so much to learn if I’m going to up my game as an accordionist. Fortunately, living in Buenos Aires doesn’t hurt.