Pasión por la Vida is an album of original tangos by pianist and composer Roger Davidson, performed in a duet with Soundbrush’s Latin Grammy Award-winning Raúl Jaurena on bandoneón. This is Davidson’s third album of tangos, but his first featuring a program comprised entirely of his own compositions. This is music to enjoy intimately as well as on the dance floor.
Roger Davidson, piano
Raul Jaurena, bandoneon
Recorded in New York City, 2008
Produced by Pablo Aslan
All compositions by Roger Davidson, Musica Universalis (BMI)
Photos: Frank Oudeman at Estancia 460, New York City
by Raul de Gama
Pasion Por La Vida is an unusual and memorable record, even by Roger Davidson’s standards. It is the third “Latin” record made by Davidson, a pianist influenced by Bill Evans as much as by Chopin. But Pasion Por La Vida takes Davidson’s love for the music of South America a shade further than – Mango Tango, Amor Por El Tango and Rogers in Rio – his earlier expressions of that love. This record is a kind of maturation for Davidson has composed all the eighteen titles on it. Spectacularly, all are tangos – eleven of them have been written in the classical Argentinean form. Several others are more European and there is a Brazilian chorinho, a bolero and a rumba but these may not be played in the familiar 2/4 time signature that exemplifies “the tango”, what unites them with the other tracks on the record is that they all reflect passion.
Davidson is able, here, to switch from his customary jazz-inflected voice to the staccato and sometime legato world of the tango. The dynamic he applies to his pianistic touch is therefore quite different. It is more percussive, following the internal rhythm of Latin melodies and the harmonic changes swirling thick, are heavier and more deliberately, almost unusually accented. Then there is that aspect of the “Tango” that is visual as the music can only partially tell the story with sound; the rest is the image that accompanies the song. Traditionally it helps always that the “tango” music accompanies a couple dancing statuesquely following the rigid dancing tradition. With Pasion Por La Vida, the dimension is singularly aural. The visual component must be imagined. This precludes the music having to work all the more harder – so that that dimension may be created like a virtual dimension, like a hologram. And here lies the success of this record.
Over a long and illustrious career that has included everything from bebop to the classics (not that there aren't some bebop classics, but you know what I mean), respected pianist Roger Davidson has again and again returned to Latin music. That passion is reflected in the title of his newest album on the Soundbrush label, Pasión por la Vida, a collection of his own neuvo tango pieces as performed by Davidson and his pal, bandoneónist Raul Jaurena, calling themselves Tango Duo.
Jaurena, who was born in Uruguay, is considered by most to be the current grand master of the bandoneón, a squeeze-box instrument similar to the concertina. It's very popular in South America and was the instrument of the legendary Astor Piazzolla. In the hands of a skilled player like
Jaurena it takes on a life of its own, providing evidence that Davidson made the right choice for a partner on this album. To lend some added weight, he also enlisted veteran Argentinean bassist Pablo Aslan as producer.
Filling an album completely with his own compositions is something of a departure for Davidson, who has usually leaned toward interpreting established Latin standards. But there is a twist here that's worth mentioning. Davidson has eliminated the highly arranged charts that he's used before, in favor of a more open, improvisational style.
The combination of piano and bandoneón proves to be an appealing sound, and there's a lot to like on this album. Whether your intent is to hit the dance floor and try your luck with a tango or just sit back and enjoy the music, you'll be well served. Practically every track is a good listen, but among my favorites I'd count "Su Pasion," which does indeed show a little passion, as does "O, Te Quiero." My top choice here was probably "Milonga Del Norte," which has a festive air reminiscent of moonlit nights and flamenco dancers. A close second was "Orquesta De Pueblo," a piece that gives Jaurena's sqeeze-box the upper hand.
Overall, an outstanding collection of improvisational tango pieces, well-performed by a duo of veteran instrumentalists. Recommended for any Latin jazz -- or tango -- fan.
Pasión Por La Vida (Soundbrush) is music made by two gentlemen who show their friendship on the album cover by sitting down, having some wine and not caring about anything in the outside world.
Roger Davidson and Raúl Jaurena play with no one but each other, one (Davidson) plays the piano while the other (Jaurena) plays the bandoneón, which is in the accordion family. Together they play the kind of tango music that you might catch on a street corner years ago, or at a wedding reception where the dancing, talking, food, and fun doesn’t end even after everyone has cleaned up. The music is a bit different from what Davidson has released recently, but if you are a fan of his piano work you will enjoy hearing him in a completely different context. He and Jaurena play tracks like “Tango Ruso”, “Todo El Tiempo”, “Puente A LA Esperanza”, and “Aventura” where you may want to join in but prefer observing from afar, not wanting to destroy the chemistry these two have with one another. There’s a romantic feel to it, although maybe that comes from hearing the music in a nostalgic manner or perhaps as an outsider. That in itself may be the lure, the idea that we’re all outsiders but somehow we open ourselves to bring each other in. Welcome.
To the untrained ear, it sounds like an accordion. And to be fair, there are similarities. However, the bandoneon is its own instrument, and it is part of what makes Tango Duo's Pasion Por La Vida an interesting and unique album.
Pianist Roger Davidson and Latin Grammy Award-winner/bandoneonist Raul Jaurena come together for a solid collection of original tango music. Davidson has recorded two previous tango albums, but this is his first with all-new music. Jaurena has worked closely with Davidson for 15 years and is one of the world's most prolific bandoneon players.
“Fuerza Milonguera” sets the mood for dancing right off. Starting in a march, it quickly becomes more of a strut. Jaurena moves seamlessly from accompanist to half of a duet, shifting back and forth from sharing the lead to complementing the piano. Each takes turns as soloist while the other maintains the rhythm.
“Camino al Sol” begins with a leisurely piano introduction. Then Jaurena brings in a bouncy lead before fading into the background while Davidson comes to the fore. As with many of the songs, this selection plays as though the musicians were tangoing with each other while providing music for others to dance to. Near the end, the music calms and slows to a near stop before Jaurena brings back the melody, setting up a triumphant finish.
“Todo el Tiempo” begins in a melancholy mood but that changes quickly as the tempo picks up. At times, the melody is reminiscent of a love story theme. Davidson and Jaurena increase the passion as this song builds to its climax.
The tango is a couple's dance, so it's fitting that this 18-song set is performed by a duet. The piano and bandoneon dance with each other throughout, each taking turns as leads.
All About Jazz
Roger Davidson's passion for tango is evident in this, his third release dedicated to tango music, and in which far from interpreting well known tangos, he plays 18 of his own compositional harvest. Classically trained, a clear ability as an instrumentalist, and deep feeling, his tangos jump out from the disc with real tango taste. But Davidson is not alone: he is accompanied by Raul Jaurena's vibrant, nostalgic and sentimental bandoneon. Both musicians, in this most basic instrumentation, meld perfectly in rhythm and in melody. The songs are very danceable, and at the same time they are a pleasure to listen to, notably Fuerza Milongera, Camino al Sol, Vals Para Mañana, Volveré, Milonga del Norte, and Alma Apasionada.
This CD is an exquisitely composed series of 18 Tangos and Milongas (fast tangos), some with searing, soulful qualities, some with buoyant liveliness, and some with pronounced, danceable melodies. In fact, Pasión Por La Vida would be the perfect accompaniment to the tango teacher, as Raúl Jaurena is so renowned and revered in the Tango community, often performing live at the “milongas” (dance socials). Davidson has captured the essence of the Tango, that sense of yearning, of memory, of the shared 3-4 minutes for the tango partners, as one leads and one follows, losing themselves to the music. Davidson creates the concept, and Jaurena makes it come alive. Together these performers are like tango partners, Davidson leading the theme and Jaurena enhancing and embellishing it.
#9 – Todo El Tiempo – With the purity of two instruments, uncluttered and uninterrupted, each artist provides nuanced interpretations. Davidson’s song inspires the imagination, and, while he provides the melody, Jaurena provides improvisational turns with elegant effect. #11 – Canción de la Montaña – This song resembles the Chacarera, an Argentine folk dance, often danced at the end of the social milonga, in the morning’s wee hours, with the entire remaining group of dancers facing each other in lines and crossing the dance floor, arms up-stretched. Jaurena is obviously versed in the genre and creates captivating chords with each pulse of Davidson’s piano.
#12 – Milonga del Norte – This vibrant Milonga, a joyful fast partner Tango, that switches the mood in social dance settings, has been composed with especially pronounced rhythms that drive the music. Jaurena slaps the side of his bandoneón for percussive pulse, and Davidson’s staccato melody enhances this recording with joyful vivacity.
#16 – Si Loin de Toi – In a Parisian mood, with a French title, this rapturous retro-styled Tango brings the listener back to the core of the genre. I found it evocative of the Pugliese Tango repertoire, soulful, searing, sensuous. This theme yearns for Tangueros in close embrace.
Roger Davidson is a prolific composer whose recent recordings have focused increasingly on the music of South America. Collaborating frequently with Brazilian, Cuban, and Argentine musicians, Roger has been steadily contributing exciting new music in these Latin genres. His bossa novas have been compared to those of the great masters, his boleros and rumbas received critical accolades, but more so than any other style, the tango has been his consistent calling card, the rhythms he has returned to again and again in the past 20 years.
Pasion por la Vida is his third album of tangos and the first to rely solely on his own creative spirit using neither a standard nor a formal arrangement. Each tune is a unique expression of his passion for life perfectly suited to the tango and distilled to its essence with piano and bandoneon. It is also the product of two very special relationships which he has cultivated for over 15 years: with Maestro Raul Jaurena, world renowned bandoneonist, and Pablo Aslan, tango bassist and his long time producer. Their familiarity and ease with each other lends this project a unique intimacy, enabling a spirit of improvisation and creative space in the studio, most unusual for tango recordings.
Roger is a spontaneous composer and pianist. By eliminating the highly arranged charts used in Roger’s previous tango recordings, Pablo encouraged the idea that no one should think too hard -- “just play, don’t think… let the producer think. I provided the basic structure, and the music developed by playing together.” Roger adds, “Since we didn’t have more than skeletons of arrangements, all the ornamentations and embellishments were improvised.” It was the kind of freedom in the studio that both Roger and Raul knew just how to exploit. “It was one of the absolute best recording experiences, and its one of the closest to my heart,” Roger explains.
The project began when Roger showed Pablo over 70 tangos he had written, most of them in the past 3 years. These were meticulously recorded on a Disklavier, a sort of digital player piano, and stored in now old-fashioned diskettes. The mechanics of the piano brought out Roger’s style of interpretation, which Pablo seized on as an essential component of the album-to-be. His piano style is in the true American tradition, cosmopolitan and jazzy, rooted in the Great American Songbook. Out of these dozens of tunes came the basic repertoire for the album. But the songs kept pouring in through the final days of recording, and a couple of them were composed spontaneously in the studio.
The dialogue shifted to a three-way conversation when they began rehearsing with Raul. The three musicians go way back to Roger’s first recording, Mango Tango (Rainbow Collection), in 1995. Since then, they have played together many times, but Roger and Raul had never played as a duo. The chemistry between Raul and Roger developed almost immediately. Sometimes, after playing through the songs a couple of times, they would start tossing the melody around, leaning on each other’s gentle accompaniment, running together, slowing down. Then they would stop and charge forward to a rousing end at which time they would burst into mischievous and contagious laughter.
Roger says about Raul, “He understood the essence right away, it was easy to have a musical dialogue with him, and he added so much to each tune, the musicality and the level of passion in each performance. We developed a strong give-and-take. Raul contributed many good ideas, lots of musical skill, and the ability to bring the tunes out melodically and rhythmically.”
Taken together these 15 tracks are an expression of passion in a wide range of forms: the kind that a man receives from a woman, or feels for a loved one who is far away, or the yearning for home. Roger finds passion in “a beautiful sunset, an afternoon in the sun, a glass of wine with a good friend, a long walk with somebody you love, or having coffee in a village square anywhere in the world. It’s a feeling of going through life as an adventure, an openness in the heart to let in love and enthusiasm.”
There are tangos clearly meant for dancing and these are a reflection of Roger’s love for dancing. He was first drawn to Argentine Tango as a dancer, and felt a kinship with the feelings evoked by the music. It was natural for him to start composing in this style, as he has been doing so for over a decade. His tangos express something very personal in a universal language.
Other songs in the album were written in different styles. Pablo explains the inclusion of these tunes in the album: “As Roger played through his voluminous output from recent years, I discovered a few tunes from what would be considered ‘non-tango’ repertoire (Roger writes Brazilian, Cuban and Caribbean tunes, as well as Irish jigs and Jewish horas). I urged him to let me try a few of them as tangos, since I believe that tango is a universal language.” As interpreted by the duo they joyfully break musical boundaries.
Each song is a unique expression of a universal feeling; it is Roger’s intention that anyone can connect to them. Pasion por la Vida is indisputable evidence that indeed they can!