by Jason Victor Serinus, Bay Area Reporter
Rarely does a self-produced CD of so-called “classical crossover” receive two Grammy nominations. But such is the deserved fate of the second CD from Quartet San Francisco, the Bay Area Ensemble that, only three years after its inception, captured both the Special Prize and the Grand Prize at the 2004 New York City International Tango Competition, sponsored by the Argentine Consulate.
Why tango is considered “crossover” rather than simply classical must have to do with its danceability and powers of seduction. While it may lack snob appeal and airs of the cloister, it certainly lacks not for sophistication. Especially in these hands, the music is irresistible. Take, for example, Hernandez’ “Cachita,” Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba,” or one of the most famous tangos of all time, Matos Rodriguez’s 1917 classic “La Cumparsita.” The titles may not be familiar, but there’s a good chance that, if you’ve heard a fair share of tango, one of these tunes is already inscribed in your memory.
Quartet San Francisco seems to have tango in its blood, swinging and slinking through the notes with flair. The contrast between the unbridled optimism of “Cachita” and the refined melancholy of Astor Piazzolla’s mysterious nuevo tango “Melodia en la Menor” could not be greater. Piazzolla makes his insinuating presence known three times, as do two non-Latinos, Leonard Bernstein (in an arrangement of West Side Story’s “Cool” by Turtle Island String Quartet founder David Balakrishnan) and the quartet’s first violinist Jeremy Cohen, who in “Crowdambo” pays homage to his late teacher, Anne Crowden, founder of Berkeley’s Crowden School of Music. There’s so much unexpected beauty in this music. Wonderfully recorded (one of its Grammy nominations is for Best Engineered Album, Classical) with the bonus of John Santos’ percussion on three of its 16 tracks, this CD is destined to spend more time in your player than on the shelf.