When discussing improvisation, we have many talking points that dominate the conversation, but there’s one we often overlook – interpretation. We always so much to say about things like personal voice, artistic vision, technical ability, historical lineage, and other exciting distractions that are on the tip of our tounges. These are certainly important topics that have been driving forces for jazz, but they wouldn’t exist without the idea of interpretation. It was the beginning of improvisation, as Dixieland musicians created their own interpretations of popular melodies that twisted and turned around the original theme until they became something new. It’s also an important part of the arranging process; in fact, jazz arranging is simply creating a new context for improvisation by surrounding familiar ideas with different musical approaches. The interpretation of melodic ideas and performance contexts sits at the foundation of jazz and always serves as a great starting point. Pianist Emilio Solla embraces interpretation on his latest album Tributango, where he pays tribute to Argentinean tango by interpreting the music through a jazz lens.
Mixing Danceable Tango Infused With Solla’s Jazz Tinged Stamp
Solla interprets several tango classics through his jazz background, creating a context with room for improvisation. A syncopated left hand brings rhythmic tension to Solla’s initial presentation of the main theme on “Milonga de Mis Amores,” before the song explodes into a full band statement. There’s some creative arranging on this piece, as the theme jumps from Danielson to Aslan’s bowed bass and various combinations of the band members playing in unison with Solla. When the main tune comes to a close, the band quiets for an attention grabbing solo from Jaurena, who pushes long runs through the chord changes. Aslan attacks his bass with the bow, pulling it across strings and hitting the instrument, setting a powerful tone for Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango.” The familiar ostinato figure gets tossed around the group as Jaurena and Danielson assertively present melodic phrases. As the main theme fades into the distance, Solla falls into an improvisation that balances syncopation, racing notes, and unique choices to send the piece to an energetic conclusion. Solla provides a spacious introduction to “Soledad,” laying down a rich harmonic texture for vocalist Roxana Amed’s statement of the melody. Amed delivers a spell binding performance, hanging on each word with an intimate familiarity while Solla accompanies through with a combination of tango fueled rhythm and jazz interaction. The pianist’s solo gels through the tension of tango and subtle hints of bop melodies, leading back into a beautifully varied return to the melody from Amed. These pieces stay true to the tango tradition, mixing danceable music with Solla’s unique jazz tinged stamp sending the interpretation towards some wonderful improvisations.
A More Traditional Approach With Jazz Embellishments
Solla take a more traditional approach on some songs, letting jazz influences simply embellish a setting geared towards tango dancers. The whole group flies into a brisk tempo on “El Enterriano,” setting the stage for an energetic statement of the melody from Jaurena and Danielson. Staccato eighth notes give way to expressive long notes in a tour de force romp through this classic piece which is both stately and playful. As the band nears the end of the piece, Solla throws his own twist into the arrangement with a chromatic line that sends the piece into uncharted territory. Shimmering notes from Danielson peak behind Solla’s rubato introduction on “El Choclo” until the band explodes into a forward motion for the main theme. The bowed sound of Aslan’s bass grabs the melody in a softly engaging contrast to a melody from Jaurena and Danielson. There’s a reflective and elegant nature to the song, but that doesn’t stop Solla, Jaurena, and Danielson from having a lot of fun interpreting the themes with enthusiastic embellishments. Solla and Danielson provide a dramatic introduction to “El Marne” which transitions into a stately dance stride. An uplifting switch to a relative major key provides an opportunity for some embellished melodic material from Solla and Jaurena before the group storms back towards a menacing minor mood. This feel change sets the stage for Danielson and Jaurena to trade short ideas on the main theme, taking the band plodding towards the end of the piece. As the group creates a fierce forward motion, Jaurena leaps right into the melody on “El Pollo Ricardo,” handing it off to Danielson and Solla when it shifts into a major modality. The group disappears behind Aslan and Danielson, creating a tender moment that falls right back into the forward motion of Solla’s persistent chords. The band allows some space for improvisations from Solla and Jaurena before charging to the end of the song with the main theme. Solla and his group reveal a vast knowledge and deep love for the tango on these pieces, interpreting the songs with touches of jazz and a deep respect.
Interpreting Tango Through A More Personal Vision
Solla brings several original compositions to the album, interpreting tango through a much more personal vision. There’s an intimacy in Jaurena’s melodic performance on “Camusi de Pincho,” as his notes are complimented by the clacking of his keys over Solla’s rhythmic choardal work. When the pianist improvises over the chord changes, there’s an emerging urgency cutting through the elegant waltz feel. The exchange between Danielson, Solla, and Jaurena – part contrapuntal lines, part conversation – adds a delightful element to the piece. Danielson, Solla, and Jaurena use an equal share of musicianship, drama, and emotive playing as they divide the melody on “La Novena.” Shades of Piazzolla’s influence peak through Solla’s arrangement as he modulates the key moving into Danielson’s improvisation. The violinist applies a thick vibrato and strong tone to powerful lines that flow seamlessly into a solo from Solla, who picks each note with thoughtful precision. A powerful introduction from the whole group leads into a driving motion underneath an attention grabbing melody on “Sol La”. Jaurena, Danielson, and Solla all take turns interpreting the melody, with each one adding another layer of drama. An improvisatory exchange between Jaurena, Danielson, and Solla gradually builds from interpretation to full solo, allowing for an interesting interplay on the harmony. Solla’s original pieces emphasize jazz aesthetics, creating a context with more room for improvisation, harmonic color, and space.
A personal lens that holds the music true to its danceable past and jazz future
Solla mixes the modernity of jazz and the tradition of tango into a beautiful collection of music on Tributango, creating a fitting tribute to the style. Solla accomplishes this blend by focusing his jazz lens very precisely when interpreting the work of tango composers, emphasizing the composition at all times. Songs are re-harmonized at certain points, small arranging additions color the music, and there are some short sections for improvisation, but each of these elements pay second fiddle to the needs of the song. There’s room for the musicians to interpret melodies with embellishments and phrasing, but their purely improvisational sections are limited. Solla’s original compositions offer more room for improvisational freedoms, but they remain surrounded by the tango context. Solla’s interpretations require restraint, musical prowess, and insider knowledge of both jazz and tango; these are qualities delivered in large quantities by his musicians. Jaurena and Danielson are perfect foils for each other, overflowing with emotive phrasing, tango heritage, and rhythmic motion every time they trade melodic ideas. Aslan solidly establishes the bottom line throughout the album, providing rhythmic momentum, percussive embellishments, bowed melodies, and a firm tango foundation. Solla wears many hats throughout the recording, pushing the rhythm forward with an elegant grace, coloring the harmony with rich textures, and playing melodies with a classical grace. All of these pieces help Solla interpret tango through a personal lens that holds the music true to its danceable past and jazz future, creating a collection of music on Tributango that skillfully captures the best of both worlds.
1. El Entrerriano (R. Mendizabal)
2. Libertango (A. Piazzolla)
3. Camusi de Pincho (E. Solla)
4. El Choclo (A. Villoldo)
5. Milonga de mis Amores (P. Laurenz)
6. Sol La (E. Solla)
7. La Novena (E. Solla)
8. El Marne (E. Arolas)
9. El Pollo Ricardo (L. Fernandez)
10. Soledad (C. Gardel)
11. El Pollo Ricardo (Pablo Aslan remix)
Emilio Solla – piano; Raul Jaurena – bandoneon; Pablo Aslan – bass; Nick Danielson – violin
Check out more great LJC:
Latin Jazz Corner 006: Brent Fischer Interview (Part 1), Emilio Solla, Supporting Latin Jazz In 2017
Pablo Aslan Playing Tango On The Grill: El Amanecer
Latin Jazz Corner 005: Top Ten Albums Of 2016
Pablo Ziegler Performs Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango At Berklee