Over a long and illustrious career that has included everything from bebop to the classics (not that there aren’t some bebop classics, but you know what I mean), respected pianist Roger Davidson has again and again returned to Latin music. That passion is reflected in the title of his newest album on the Soundbrush label, Pasión por la Vida, a collection of his own neuvo tango pieces as performed by Davidson and his pal, bandoneónist Raul Jaurena, calling themselves Tango Duo.
Jaurena, who was born in Uruguay, is considered by most to be the current grand master of the bandoneón, a squeeze-box instrument similar to the concertina. It’s very popular in South America and was the instrument of the legendary Astor Piazzolla. In the hands of a skilled player like Jaurena it takes on a life of its own, providing evidence that Davidson made the right choice for a partner on this album. To lend some added weight, he also enlisted veteran Argentinean bassist Pablo Aslan as producer.
Filling an album completely with his own compositions is something of a departure for Davidson, who has usually leaned toward interpreting established Latin standards. But there is a twist here that’s worth mentioning. Davidson has eliminated the highly arranged charts that he’s used before, in favor of a more open, improvisational style.
The combination of piano and bandoneón proves to be an appealing sound, and there’s a lot to like on this album. Whether your intent is to hit the dance floor and try your luck with a tango or just sit back and enjoy the music, you’ll be well served. Practically every track is a good listen, but among my favorites I’d count “Su Pasion,” which does indeed show a little passion, as does “O, Te Quiero.” My top choice here was probably “Milonga Del Norte,” which has a festive air reminiscent of moonlit nights and flamenco dancers. A close second was “Orquesta De Pueblo,” a piece that gives Jaurena’s sqeeze-box the upper hand.
Overall, an outstanding collection of improvisational tango pieces, well-performed by a duo of veteran instrumentalists. Recommended for any Latin jazz — or tango — fan.