Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Jack Van Geem’s Tangos on Marimba at SFCM

Percussionist Jack Van Geem (from the SFCM event page for last night’s concert)

Last night in the Sol Joseph Recital Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Faculty Artist Series presented a marimba recital by Jack Van Geem entitled Tango Jazz. Van Geem led a trio, whose other members were Robert Wright on bass and fellow percussionist Raymond Froelich, playing primarily on cajón but with a couple of numbers on marimba. Strictly speaking, the program alternated between tango and choro selections; and most of the former reflected the nuevo tango innovations of Argentinian Astor Piazzolla. The program also included an original composition by Wright and a jazzy take on the final (Temp di Borea) movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1002 solo violin partita.

Clocking in at about two hours (including intermission), Van Geem presented a generous serving of considerable diversity. Even if almost half of the selections were by Piazzolla, there was enough diversity in those selections to reflect a wide spectrum of moods and technical challenges for any instrument. The only other composer to be represented by more than one piece was the Brazilian Ernesto Nazareth, who was known to refer to his choro compositions as “Brazilian tangos.” For such music Froelich definitely chose the right instrument in the cajón, always maintaining a solid rhythmic foundation while exploring the full breadth of sonorities coming out of what looks like little more than a wooden box.

Although most of the program made for an adventurous journey of discovery, Van Geem knew how to organize the new around some of the more popular selections from the repertoire. He began with “La cumparsita” (the little parade”), which is basically a march-like tango by Uruguayan Gerardo Matos Rodríguez. The Bach “interlude” was followed by Consuelo Velázquez’ bolero “Bésame Mucho” (kiss me a lot); and the second half of the program offered a lively take on the Brazilian choro by Zequinha de Abreu, “Tico-Tico no fubá” (sparrow in the cornmeal).

From a technical point of view, all of the selections were well served by Van Geem’s marimba work. There was always a clear sense of where the tune was and how it fit into the rhythm backup. (Wright had several opportunities to pick up the thematic material, working with both bow and pizzicato technique.) Each tune went through its own litany of improvised embellishments; and, as Van Geem observed, the “Double” for the Bach selection probably reflected early stirrings of such improvisations. The result was an engaging jazzy framework in which the attentive listener could explore the rich diversity in American music south of that border that the current political atmosphere has rendered so contentious.

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