I've been commenting on the rather outstanding degree of excellence more and more labels have been achieving as registrants of the artistic sine qua non and as august patron personalities in and of themselves. In the past, the integrity of a label was overall a fairly laughable thing. After all, Columbia issued just as many embarrassments and clunkers as chartbusters, as did Atlantic and others, but there were a few, very few, which were the very essence of art with a capital 'A', and ECM stood above all. Then Manfred Eicher made a huge mistake, signed with Universal for distribution under its stable of administrative idiots and pelican heads, and cracks began to appear in the dam. That the Editions of Contemporary Music forum has sunk into a fluttering form oscillating between excellence and banality has been noted among critics, and so we've turned elsewhere for the quality and integrity that once reigned undisturbed there. Few, then, have mounted the throne so graciously and impressively as the Zoho label, and releases like Amsterdam Meets New Tango by Pablo Ziegler and Metropole Orkest stun the senses in proof.
Orchestral jazz can be a strange unwieldy beast unless the composer is willing to take risks and reach down into the deepest pools of his creative juices, unleashing the kind of daring that marked all the great eras of jazz (and there have been a few of those epochs so far). Pablo Ziegler is that ilk of gentleman artist, as is Leo Brouwer (here), and one can only hark back to giants like Stan Kenton and a few others in drawing comparatives. I, though, must also point to cats like Anthony Davis and his groundbreaking (but still largely ignored) neoclassical jazz magnum opuses, sometimes called 'operas': Ghost Factory, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, and so on. Though Ziegler's baseline is very different from Tony Davis' or Gil Evans' or Kenton's, there's nonetheless a very strong backbone of the visionary in all those men, and Amsterdam Meets New Tango is the latest entry in a museum that should be a lot more full than it is. On the other hand, this is Earth…what did we expect?
New Tango is rich with the full panoply of modern life's ingredients: zesty, dark, dangerous, contemplative, threatening, passive, extreme, exuberant, tragic, joyous, and about a hundred other emotions and mindsets, each charted to exultant vibrancy and wallowing depths, often both and all degrees in between in the space of a single song. This is a live recording but the virtuosities of every single participant (Ziegler and three compeers along with the Orkester) will make you gasp, especially during the riveting Desperate Dance, a novo-Apache Dance of the past sneaking up on the future for a Greco-Roman wrestling match in the present. What I wouldn't have given to have been in the audience for this performance!
The soundscapes throughout the nonet of songs acting, to my ears, as movements within a 54-minute landscape are often massive, overflowing with motion, colors, and detail. Within even the most overwhelming, though, are pools of introspection or respite. Nothing, however, remains as it is for very long. New Tango is a long highway with a ton of fascinating and sometimes disturbing sights along the way to wherever it is we're going, and to which we thankfully never arrive. The zennists had it right: the journey is everything. This CD is, make no mistake, a tour de force, and ECM had better look to its laurels 'cause Zoho and a few others are eating its lunch…and Columbia, Atlantic, and all the old-guard rest wish they still had this degree of penetrating discernment. Good luck to 'em, I say, their day is done, the sun has set on those crumbling palaces, and Zoho's prime is just getting into its full stride.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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