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Music Reviews: ‘Two Hands to Tango’ from Håkon Skogstad, ‘Chaplin’s Smile’ from Philippe Quint

hakon skogstad two hands to tangoHaving just written about bassist Pablo Aslan’s new album of inventive tango-inspired music, I took a fresh listen to Two Hands to Tango from pianist Håkon Skogstad, produced by Aslan and released last year. Skogstad summons the spirit of the bandoneón from his piano on this well-turned solo album of tango classics and a few originals.

Arranged by the classically trained Skogstad himself, the tunes span a rainbow of modes and moods in ways Astor Piazzolla would have been proud of, with the added conceit of pianistically interpreting the bandoneón’s elastic sound.

To a degree, it’s an exercise in cleverness, but it’s also a fun and sometimes eye-opening listen. Choppy rhythms, sparkling runs, jazzy melodic transfigurations, a smooth mother-of-pearl tone, good-natured energy, and an obvious passion for the tango tradition combine with technical virtuosity (listen to those left-hand chromatic runs!) to make it a winner.

Skogstad’s superb 10-minute tribute to Piazzolla, “Tristezas de un Doble S,” may be his most heartfelt statement of what the tradition means to him. But all you really need is the warm emotion of his three-minute take on “El Marne” to get the goods on this talented young Norwegian pianist. Bravo. Two Hands to Tango is available online

In another inspired adaptation project, Philippe Quint sings Charlie Chaplin’s mellifluous movie songs – with his violin. Quint’s album Chaplin’s Smile sets songs and themes Chaplin wrote for his films in toasty arrangements for violin and piano.

The tunes are heavily romantic. Sensitively accompanied by pianist Marta Aznavoorian, and joined on two tracks by superstar violinist Joshua Bell, Quint doesn’t stint on lush feeling. But if some of the recordings border on schmaltz, it’s well-contextualized schmaltz. These musicians have technique to spare and understanding to match it – everything they need to convince us that these old chestnuts, both the familiar and the obscure, deserve attention.

Quint draws us in by placing two familiar songs at the top of the set. “Eternally” (the Terry theme from Limelight) has been recorded over the years by the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Il Volo. Countless artists have sung “Smile” (the theme from Modern Times) and just about everybody knows it.

“City Lights Suite” and “The Kid Fantasy” allow Quint and Aznavoorian to stretch out their interpretive muscles. The latter laughs its way into our hearts too. For variety, a couple of energetic tangos heat things up. In general the arrangements preserve an old-timey feel while opening these beautiful tunes for fresh ears, or a fresh listen. Chaplin’s Smile is available now

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases.Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires.Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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