Pablo Ziegler Quartet at the Jazz Standard, December 2005

 This magnificent Argentinean pianist won the Sixth Annual Latin Grammy award for Best Tango Album for his 2003 CD Bajo Cero. The bandmembers at the Jazz Standard consisted of Pablo Ziegler on piano, Claudio Ragazzi on guitar, Pedro Girato on bass (filling in for Pablo Aslan), and Hector del Curto on bandoneon. Each night of his run at the club Pablo featured a special guest. On the night I went tenor saxophonist Harry Allen was featured.

On Ziegler's CD, Bajo Cero, the pianist is joined by Quique Sinesi on guitar (a famous Argentinean musician who has performed with the likes of Paquito D'Rivera and Enrico Rava) and Walter Castro, a virtuoso bandoeonist who has played with the group since 1995. In the live performance at the Jazz Standard, Claudio Ragazzi was the guitarist, replacing Sinesi and, incidentally, was the only North American in the group--Claudio hails from Boston. The music was lively and fun, and it was a pleasure to listen to the way the guitar and bandoneon soloed with zest and verve.

The similarity between the accordion and the bandoneon is very strong. At one time the accordion was a dominant force in American pop music. Before the electric piano became used widely in the sixties and seventies, the accordion was the portable instrument of the day. The bandoneon continues this tradition in tango music, where it has always been an integral component.

Ziegler is best known for his work with Astor Piazzolla's New Tango Quintet in the seventies and eighties and plays classical music as well as Jazz and tango. At the Jazz Standard, he played a number of cuts from the CD, as well as the title tune, Bajo Cero. There was one called "La Fundicion," an ominous-sounding piece which Ziegler said was named from a metal factory and another translated as "Milonga in the Wind," where the young bassist was featured on arco.

The composer/arranger/pianist writes songs that are rhythmically complicated and which, upon repeated listening, will linger in your head. "Chin Chin" is a fast tango with lots of sixteenth notes and goes into a romantic, introspective section. "Bajo Cero" (which means "Below Zero") featured a beautiful solo on piano by Ziegler. He used no music, but the rest of the musicians were reading scores, as the music is very challenging. In addition to the usual way of playing, all kinds of percussive sounds were added. The musicians made these sounds by tapping on their instruments, hitting the strings, and so forth.

Pablo Ziegler is not afraid to play in a variety of musical styles. In addition to his current groups, he has performed with vibraphonist Gary Burton and collaborated on albums with Emanuel Ax and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which showcase Piazzolla's music. He has a wonderful wealth of musical knowledge, and the band members showed their respect by watching his every move. It was great to hear Ziegler live.

 by Lucy Galliher


 Geri Allen

 The Mary Lou Williams Collective

 Zodiac Suite Revisited

 Mary Records M104

Geri Allen, an accomplished Jazz pianist in her own right, takes on an enormous task: to walk in the footsteps of Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981).

Laboring under the specter of Williams's 1945 rendition of her own compositions, Allen's version of the Zodiac Suite is ambitious and courageous. The Zodiac was composed by Williams primarily to musically honor other special musicians and friends. Each section reflects something of their personalities.

One senses how deeply Allen is committed to bringing this work to a modern audience, and to that end she has enlisted several great talents: bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart. Drummer Andrew Cyrille appears on the album's two additional compositions, but not part of the Zodiac.

Allen's trio improvises on and embellishes the original Zodiac themes. Some of these thematic improvisations are twice, even three times, the length of the originals. Some are brilliant, others less so, but all seemed to beg these reviewers to revisit the original forms recorded sixty years earlier.

In spite of technological shortcomings of the 1945 recordings still available today on Smithsonian Folkways (pre-stereo and pre-digital and unfortunately the brilliant bass and drum accompaniment is sometimes muddied), the greatness of these sessions is incontrovertible.

Williams's spare though inspired interpretations have the feel of spontaneous ingenuity of a true musical genius at the height of her powers. She is the musical equivalent of Cézanne's sublime compromise: a master who gives personal meaning to each musical phrase with inflection, tonal subtlety, and the colloquial insinuation of a blues singer. "The blues," Williams once said, "is the healing force in all forms of Jazz."

Playing the Zodiac Suite, Williams has the feel of the blues in a way Allen does not. But this is not meant as a knock on Allen as an artist. It is unfair to make such a comparison. She seems to strive for something of a different nature, perhaps more formal and intellectual. And while there is something elusive in Williams's 1945 simplicity (something very deep and vibrant that at times evades Allen's interpretations) Allen's Zodiac has many fine moments. Each section is a vignette of mood tone and theme linked to the others. Think Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

Throughout Buster Williams's deep, resonant sound prevails, lending a tone of high seriousness to the proceedings. Many of his solos are remarkable in their own right.

Hart is a consummate foil for Allen, whose interpretations are often brilliant echoes of William's original compositions. However, for these reviewers, Allen's finest moment comes outside the Zodiac in her sparkling interpretation of a Herbie Nichols composition, "BeBop Waltz," often misattributed to Williams. With drummer Andrew Cyrille laying out a fascinating samba tempo, Allen dives in, unfettered, slashing out rhythms and melody lines, improvising with great brio and daring.

It has often been written of Mary Lou Williams that musically she was always ahead of her time. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Zodiac Suite. Sixty years later, her tunes seem fresh, the music modern in every sense and her talent ranking among the Jazz great. This is nowhere more evident than in the original album's two minutes and nine seconds of a segment entitled "Libra." While Allen's longer version is a marvelous rendition in its own right, to these reviewers the l945 recording is comparable in magnificence to Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues."

Although the Zodiac Suite of Geri Allen's interpretation is not all it might have been, it is certainly something beautiful and true and the more so for its effort to keep the music of a twentieth-century genius alive and to perhaps lead us back to Mary Lou Williams and her 1945 masterpiece.

 By Ayana Lowe and George Chieffet

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