Voltarol - related music

Thursday, 26 November 2009

As I was going to St Ives…

Pete Oxley (left) and Luis D'Agostino

…I met two men with four guitars. No, I know it doesn’t scan, and if you really want to be pedantic I know that many claim that the original rhyming riddle actually refers to St Ives, Cambridgeshire and not St Ives Cornwall, but sometimes you just get stuck for a title and an opening line…

Anyway, Mrs Voltarol and I made our way down the A30 to the excellent St Ives Jazz Club on Tuesday night, to see one of my favourite guitar duos – Luis D’ Agostino and Pete Oxley. The weather was particularly filthy that evening – the gusting winds were causing our car to skitter somewhat alarmingly and the rain was coming towards us sideways – and as a consequence the club was emptier than I have seen it for a while. When I commented on the weather conditions to Pete he admitted that he had had just about enough of rain for the moment, as he and Luis had started their tour in Cumbria! (For my overseas readers I should point out that Cumbria has just experienced what have been referred to as ‘once in a thousand years’ flooding.)

The pair had teamed up when Luis - who is from Argentina – was living in Oxford for a while. They recorded two CDs together on the 33Jazz Records label: The Play of Light (2003) and Double Singular (2006). I have been a fan of Pete’s playing and compositions for some time and had often seen his band Curious Paradise and its predecessors, but it wasn’t until early in 2008 that I caught up with the duo when they played an excellent set at one of the much-missed Foundry Bar music nights in Hayle. Imagine my dismay when I learned that Luis was returning to Argentina and I had just witnessed one of the duo’s last gigs. Equally, imagine my delight when Pete phoned me recently and told me that Luis was coming back to England for a few weeks and that they would be touring together again.

Those that stayed at home because of the weather last Tuesday deprived themselves of a great treat. The pair were on excellent form and delivered the goods from the off. The eclectic programme included material by such diverse composers as Lee Morgan, Joni Mitchell, Egberto Gismonti, Pat Metheny, Astor Piazzolla, Miles Davis, Luis Borda and Mr Oxley himself.

The arrangements were often as interesting as the tunes themselves, and the pair switched back and forth between nylon string and steel string guitars, insuring that the overall sound of the instruments never palled. They finished the evening to rapturous applause despite the smaller than usual audience, and the number of people that left the gig clutching one or more of their CDs tends to point to a more than satisfied crowd. So – when Luis next returns to England and the duo make another tour don’t miss the chance to see them if they are performing within a hundred miles of you. Believe me, it’ll be well worth the effort. Oh, and I've just heard a rumour that they may be recording another live album whilst Luis is here, so watch this space for a review.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Brazil goes to Dalston

At the beginning of last week I made a flying visit to London for the Violeiros do Brasil gig that I wrote about in my last posting. Dalston seems an unlikely venue for such an event but the Café Oto in Ashwin Street came as a pleasant surprise. It was large enough to accomodate the audience, had reasonable acoustics and sold bottles of wine at affordable prices. What more could a person want? On top of that I had arranged to meet up with my old mate Nobby (who will be known to readers of this blog as Dendron the Roadie, long suffering road manager to The Jugular Vein back in the '60's). Accompanying him was his long time partner Chrissie  who is a jazz journalist, and I was very interested in how they would respond to the evening's music

The proceedings kicked off with the showing of excerpts from Myriam Taubkin and Sérgio Roizenblit's documentary film - Violeiros do Brasil, which Myriam herself introduced. I was already acquainted with this excellent movie as I own it on DVD, but it helped introduce an unfamiliar audience to the instrument - the viola or ten string guitar - and the two artists that were performing that night, Ivan Vilela and Pereira da Viola. (I thoroughly recommend that you buy or rent this DVD. As well as some great music it contains some wonderful scenes of the Brazilian landscape which will give you a much better sense of the country than endless images of Rio de Janeiro - however fascinating Rio might be, it's not all there is to Brazil.)

First on to the stage was Ivan Vilela, whose modest demeanour belies his sublime musicianship. His set included material from a number of Brazilian composers including Edu Lobo, as well as some of his own compositions and a surprising but exquisite 'Eleanor Rigby'.

He was followed by Pereira Da Viola who sang as well as played, and whose material was on the whole a little less cerebral than Vilela's. But it was none the less engaging for that, and as a player he was most impressive. They came together at the end and played a few things together, much to the delight of the crowd ( which included a large number of ex-pat Brazilians) and left the stage to prolonged applause.

After the performance I was able to record a brief conversation with Myriam Taubkin, and to talk to her about herself and the project. Here is a transcription:-

Voltarol: I know from talking to your brother Benjamin that you come from a very musical family. Were you born in São Paulo?

Myriam Taubkin: Yes I was.

V: I know you from your production work and your promotional and archiving activities but did you play or sing?

MT: Yes. I was a singer when I was really young. From a child of seven, eight, nine until my thirties. I was a professional and I loved to sing – but not to be a singer. I didn’t like to be a singer as a professional career. I loved to sing, but maybe because I was a producer at the same time. I received the words of all the singers and composers when I used to work in public institutions – I had to wait for people to tell me if what I did was good. That’s not my way. I used to listen to all the criticism and take it to heart, so I chose to be a producer! And I think that in Brazil my way is different. I don’t represent anyone. I’m not an agent for anyone, including my brothers. Both of them are musicians. I don’t like to sell musicians. I like to invite them to my projects. So – this work of musical curator and musical director is a whole conception of a spectacular concert, the lighting, the clothes, entrances and exits – everything – I think about everything. You know, Benjamin presented a big concert in São Paulo last week, in a marvellous venue, with twenty musicians on the stage. And Benjamin is a marvellous musician but – how can you say – it was not finished. The presentation was not right and he invited me to do this, to produce it. There were many musicians and a narrator, so I was responsible for that conception, for everything…and this is what I love to do.

V: I understand completely. I am a musician – sort of – and I love to make music and I have played professionally, but I often think that at heart I’m more of a punter - a customer for music. So I bring this to music. I used to work in record shops and I loved introducing new stuff to people – “Have you heard this? Have you heard that?” From there I went on to run clubs and to promote concerts and festivals…

MT: To convince people to listen…

V: Exactly…so I understand exactly where you are coming from. It’s that complete involvement in music but coming at it from a different direction. Yes, I can make music but what really pleases me is to get other people to get the same joy from music that I get – which is why I now write my blog and continue to promote music. I think we are similar people in that respect.

I first noticed your name on the ‘Arranjadores’ (arrangers) CD, which was a Projeto Memória Brasileira (Brazilian Memory Project) release in 1992. Where you the founder of the project?

MT: Yes, I founded it. It was my concept. My first project was in 1987. It was ‘Memorias Piano Brasiliero’ - Brazilian Piano Memory – with eleven popular Brazilian pianists. This was the first one. The second one was in 1989. This was guitars. This was called ‘Violões’. ‘Arrangers’ was third. And then Violeiros do Brasil which was in 1997. So now for this documentary - ‘Violeiros do Brasil’ DVD – and for the book we have produced, we went back to the same musicians from the 1997 CD, to see how they improve, and how they live today. This was fantastic because I had the opportunity to enter into their…um…how do you say…intimidade?

V: Their private lives…?

MT: Yes. And I knew all of them very well, so I was at home and it was fantastic.

V: Yes. In the documentary it comes across that they are very comfortable talking to the camera, and it feels as if you are participating in a conversation with friends. It’s a lovely atmosphere, and every time I watch it I get big saudades* for Brazil!

MT: Ah! (Laughs) Thank you!

V: So. As I understand the project you are documenting various aspects of Brazilian music – specialist areas. I have the Arrangers, the guitars, the violas…

MT: The accordions, the percussion…

V: Ah. Well that I don’t have. I have the accordion – the Sanfona of São Paulo and,,,

MT: Rio Grande do Sul…

V: Yes…which I love. I was converted to a love of the accordion by Brazilian musicians. I used to think that hell for musicians would be full of accordions and banjos but then I heard Sivuca and…

MT: Dominguinhos?

V: Yes! And Toninho Ferragutti…and I suddenly realised that the problem is not the accordion or the banjo or the bagpipes. It is who plays it. And it is the musical soul of that person.

MT: That’s it! And you know that this project is not only to record the old people, the masters, but modern stuff also – what’s going on now. But you know the Viola - this instrument has a marvellous future because there is no instrument that is quite the same, and it came to Brazil with no rules - from one land to another. So if you are a young musician and you want to play the viola you can discover it and you can find out …a lot of new things that no one before him has done...There is nothing written down about how to play. All the other instruments have this. So this is why the viola for me is so fantastic. I’m not so preoccupied with the tradition…but the way they play now…the 21st century. This is what I feel.

V: One of the things that fascinates me about Brazilian musicians generally, is that they don’t seem to be too bothered by musical boundaries, by musical compartments. Many great players seem to move freely between folk – traditional music – and jazz and popular music. They don’t see walls, and we saw that this evening. Some of the music played was very traditional and some was very harmonically advanced, very sophisticated and yet the elements come together beautifully. You seem to see this as an aspect of the viola, but it seems to me more a function of Brazilian musicality that comes to fruition with the viola because it is an unwritten book – it is a blank sheet.

MT: You know, the classical composers in Brazil have always had a sense of traditional music so the frontier, the meeting point between classical and popular music in Brazil…there is no frontier I think. You can cross over…because the traditional music in Brazil – the Lundu, the Modinha, Samba, Coco, Maracatu – is too strong for inspiration. The roots, the musical culture is so strong that it inspires the musicians to begin here and then open up because in Brazil we are a new people, another kind of people, completely different. And I think that music expresses this.

V: Ok. One last question. In England we have a radio programme called Desert Island Discs, where you are cast away on a desert island and have to choose which eight records you would take with you. I am much crueller than that and I will only let you take one. What would it be?

MT: One? Only one?

V: Yes, one. Come on. The ship is going down. All your CDs are around you. You only have ten seconds to get out of there! Grab one! What would it be?

MT: It’s very difficult…

V: I know! That’s the whole point!

MT: I think Milton Nascimento. Clube da Esquinha.

V: That’s great Thank you very much. I’ve enjoyed this evening and I’ve enjoyed our conversation.

MT: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

*saudades: no direct English equivalent but a kind of bitter-sweet nostalgic longing