One of the most delightful aspects of writing this blog is continually discovering new facets of the breadth and depth of the Canadian music scene. One such discovery has been the music of Toronto’s Payadora Tango Ensemble, which just released its new album, “Volando.” Comprised of violinist Rebekah Wolkstein, pianist Robert Horvath, accordionist Branko Dzinovic, and bassist Joe Phillips, the group has assembled a thoroughly enjoyable set of tunes for this, their second album.
The album opens with the catchy, uptempo “A Don Augustin Bardi.” If you are at all familiar with tango, you might recognize this particular tune, as it’s been widely played and recorded. (I actually first heard it on an album by classical pianist Daniel Barenboim some years ago.) In Payadora’s hands it comes to life, as they take full advantage of the tune’s dramatic moments to create a landscape of sound that is by turns energetic and thoughtful. “Mala Junta,” which follows, appears frequently on tango recordings, and the group gives it a dramatic reading here.
“Niebla Oscura” is one of several original compositions on the album and was composed by the album’s producer Drew Jurecka (who careful readers of this blog will also have seen mentioned in recent articles about albums by Steve Maloney and Justin Gray – Gray, by the way, also mastered this album). This quieter, more meditative composition gives all four musicians a chance to shine and share varied aspects of their talents; it has the feel of chamber music rather than tango, even with the accordion.
“Volando” was composed by the group’s violinist, Rebekah Wolkstein, and while she admits this is her first-ever composition, the listener certainly won’t get that impression as the piece is well constructed and builds from a suspenseful beginning to a dramatic climax. “Tavasz,” written by pianist Robert Horvath, brings a hint of his native Hungary to the table in a lovely piano solo before the rest of the group enters the musical tableau.
“Adios Muchachos / I Get Ideas” blends the sounds of tango and jazz seamlessly in a luscious stew, while “La Humilde” and “Nostalgias Tucumanas” offer fun interpretations of two Argentinian folk songs. The album closes with a surprising and awesome reading of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 1 that I find utterly addictive – like the whole project. Even if you aren’t familiar with tango music, this album provides an accessible introduction to the genre by four hugely talented musicians who clearly have a passion for it. Highly, highly recommended.
We are grateful to Rebekah Wolkstein for taking the time to answer a few questions about the album.
I guess the first question I would ask is: why tango? What drew you all to this particular genre?
I heard Piazzolla’s recordings in college for the first time and fell in love with them. Then, a few years after moving to Toronto, I was offered a string quartet concert and the promoter told me there was also a tango band coming from out of town that would be performing. Excitedly, I asked if the band included a violinist and when I was told they weren’t bringing a violinist, I offered to play with them. This was my first time playing tango and I felt completely at ease and confident with the music. After that, I began the search for the right group of musicians to form my own tango band.
As a follow-up to that, although you classify yourselves as a tango ensemble, the music on this project crosses several genres. “Adios Muchachos/I Get Ideas” could easily be a jazz piece in your collective hands, for example… how do you select music as a group, and how did you settle on the pieces that ultimately ended up on this album?
I listen to tango all the time to find repertoire for the band to arrange. I played a recording of Adios Muchachos for our producer, Drew Jurecka, and he pointed out that it had also been recorded in English by Louis Armstrong under the title, ‘I Get Ideas.’ Since many of us in the band play jazz, I thought it would be great fun to play the tango version and to contrast it to the English jazz version. I thought I’d sing the tune in English and have our wonderful Uraguyan singer, Elbio Fernandez sing the Spanish original. Our first album is all arrangements of traditional and modern tango and I wanted this album to be more eclectic while still staying true to what we feel is the essence of tango. This record really branches out from tango while keeping a connection to our ensemble’s roots in Argentinean tango music.
“Niebla Oscura,” which was composed by Drew Jurecka (who clearly is a really busy gentleman, since he’s appeared on three albums we’ve written about/are writing about already this year!), has – to me – less of a tango sound and more of a chamber music feeling, albeit with slightly nontraditional instrumentation. How does this piece fit into the rest of your group’s repertoire?
As producer of our first album, Drew wanted us to have a slower, introspective work to match the mostly dramatic and faster paced traditional tango repertoire. We had trouble finding something that we liked in the existing tango repertoire so Drew wrote an original work for the band. While not strictly a tango, it draws heavily from the harmonic and melodic tradition of tango and we feel that it fits in well with the existing repertoire. While we love and respect the existing tango repertoire, it’s also wonderful to bring something new to the genre.
You composed “Volando,” and I find it really interesting that you mention that it was the accordion part that came to you first (since you’re a violinist). This is also your first composition – how easily have you settled into that role of composer, as opposed to interpreter?
I never thought that I could compose although I do improvise. I surprised myself, writing this piece and continue to be surprised at how much I like what I have written.
“La Humilde” is one of the folk songs that you’ve chosen for the album. It’s a Chacarera – I looked that up, but for those who might not take the time to do so, can you explain a bit about this song’s origins?
We have two Argentinean folk tunes on our album. Nostalgias Tucumanas is a Zamba and La Humilde is a Chacarera. We love the delicacy of the Zamba and the complex and groovy rhythm of the chacarera. We wanted to explore some of the other music of the region and these pieces provide an interesting contrast while fitting in nicely with the rest of the repertoire.
At least two of you (Rebekah and Robert) teach music regularly as well as perform… how does your work as educators affect how you perform, choose repertoire, etc.?
I teach both privately and at Humber College where I teach private lessons as well as a tango ensemble. At Humber College, the violin students come from backgrounds in various musical genres, I am inspired by the atmosphere in the music program, walking down the hall and hearing all kinds of music being played. I get a different type of satisfaction from teaching than I do from performing but I value both.
I know you have several upcoming performances listed on your site – are there any that you would highlight as particular ones that folks might want to check out?
March 29th at 8:00PM at Gallery 345, 345 Sorauren Ave 416-822-9781 Tickets available on eventbrite.ca The Death and Rebirth of Tango: Tango after the Golden Era. We put on a show about the golden era of tango and this is a show about the music that was written after the golden era. from the 1950s until today.