Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Saturday Night at Baar Fun Fun in Montevideo, Uruguay
Founded in 1895, Baar Fun Fun is the place to hear tango in Montevideo, or so I was told by some musicians in Buenos Aires. Though has been in its current location for only the last 18 years or so, the bar oozes its history through the many photographs plastered on the walls, including an autographed photo of the legendary Carlos Gardel, who apparently visited the bar in 1933. The story goes that upon tasting an “uvita,” a sweet wine drink that is the specialty of the house, Gardel was so inspired he burst into a tango song right there and then, belly up to the bar, without any accompaniment. I did not taste one myself, but if that story is even partly true it must be pretty good.
We were seated at a table right next to the small stage, upon which were seated a bandoneonist and a guitar player. These musicians accompanied two different singers who alternated short sets of six or seven songs. One of the singers was a woman who could have been in her late sixties or seventies, the other was a man who was probably forty. They were both dressed in outfits that were at once outrageous and entirely appropriate. For her a short white dress, white high heel shoes, a white lace shirt with a white bra; for him a dark suit with no tie, unbuttoned far down the chest with a silver cross around the neck. This is the visual definition of a “grasa” tango singer, a “fatty” or “greasy” style that can often come off as too much, but which, in this context, felt—and sounded—absolutely great.
The singers stood on the floor in front of the small stage and pranced around the room as they sang, kissing friends on the cheek as they came in, approaching people at tables and singing right into their eyes then quickly moving on. A very old waiter who has worked at the bar for many years was celebrating his 78th birthday that night, and the singers would have him sing lines into the microphone as he walked by with orders.
The bar itself is rather small, and many people without reservations were turned away at the door, but those who were there seemed to enjoy themselves immensely, singing along to the classics of the tango repertoire that were played well into the next morning. Among the most impressive musical moments came later into the evening, as audience members shouted out many different requests to the male singer. “I can’t do all of those,” he said, “I can’t do all of those.” Then, with a gleam in his eye, he shouted, “Yes, yes! I will do all of them!” He then launched into a medley of about six classic tango songs that he strung together on the spot through nods and winks to the musicians, who kept right there with him throughout. The audience, of course, went crazy over this, singing along and shouting approval and applause when the singer finally winded up on the last chord. It was an amazing feat, something I fell very lucky to have been a part of.
For a visitor like me, going to the Baar Fun Fun was more about temporarily participating in a joyous and exuberant musical community than in hearing a concert of a specific musician or singer. It was refreshing for me to hear tango, at least on this night and at this place, as truly popular music.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
34 puñaladas at Bar Tuñón
The 34 puñaladas describe themselves as “an orchestra of tense strings and singer,” and that is exactly what they are: a quartet of three guitars plus guitarrón (a lower pitched guitar) that accompany a vocalist. This instrumentation is one of the classic formats for backing up tango singers, dating from the time of Carlos Gardel (1890-1935) and even earlier, though it is relatively rare to hear today. Therefore the very use of this instrumentation makes a complicated statement regarding the history of tango, and that same sense of complexity applies to almost every aspect of the 34 puñaladas’s music, from their selection of repertoire to their musical arrangements.
The unusual name of the group, which translates as “34 stabs,” is taken from the final line of the famous tango song “Amablemente” (“Nicely,” lyrics by Iván Diaz, music by Edmundo Rivero). Like the rest of the “prison tango” repertoire that the group specializes in, most of which dates from the early 20th century, “Amablemente” is a musical depiction of the heroically desperate lives of the urban poor at the margins of Argentine society: immigrants, criminals, street toughs, prostitutes. In this particular song, a man returns home to find his wife in the arms of another man. After dismissing the woman’s lover, because “the man is not responsible in these cases,” he sits down and asks his wife to make him a drink, which she does. After relaxing with his drink, he approaches his wife and “with great tranquility and nicely” stabs her 34 times, killing her.
Aside from the sometimes shockingly violent content of these songs—which are recognized by everyone as being misogynist and extremely non-P.C.—this repertoire is also famous for its use of lunfardo, a highly Italianized slang form of Spanish that is unique to Buenos Aires and almost entirely unintelligible to those not familiar with it, including most Argentines. (They sell lunfardo dictionaries in the bookshops here.) Revisiting this particular repertoire therefore necessarily means revisiting lunfardo as well. However, despite the barriers to intelligibility lunfardo presents, the age of the songs, and the perhaps not so radically different social worlds depicted in them, this repertoire still seems to have a lot to say to contemporary audiences.
The man who does the saying in the 34 puñaladas is Alejandro Guyot, whom I consider to be one of the best tango singers active today. Moving fluently between a solemnly spoken and forcefully sung voice, Guyot seems to embody the songs more than sing them. He creates a stage persona that makes the songs both believable and effective without being overly precious, and knows exactly how long to hold a note. Guyot is supported by musical arrangements that are as equally dark and atmospheric as the stories the songs depict. Relying heavily on biting dissonances, sequential layering of textures, and impressive use of space and silence, the group of guitarists play with the virtuosity and precision of a professional string quartet. While utilizing the complete resources of the instruments, the virtuosity of the group never came off as empty or simply impressive, even on the several instrumental pieces they played.
Taken together, this performance struck me as one of the most complicated, intense, and ultimately rewarding listening experiences I have had here. As the 34 puñaladas begin to incorporate more original material into their repertoire—they played three original songs here and are preparing a recording of entirely original material—we may hear that, in the underbelly of Buenos Aires, not that much has changed.
34 puñaladas, Argot (Acqua Records) 2006.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Alfredo Piro at the Torquato Tasso
Take a young singer, add two parts tango, one part rock, add band, shake well, place on stage, turn on microphones, then sit back and enjoy! That was the recipe for this great mid-week concert by Alfredo Piro at the Torquato Tasso, one of the best venues in Buenos Aires for hearing live tango music.
Son of tango legends Osvaldo Piro and Susana Rinaldi (who were recently reunited on stage for the closing concert of the tango in the Teatro Colón series), Alfredo brings a certain edginess to his music that began with how he looks: a black on black striped tie, a black, nearly skin-tight dress T-shirt, black jeans, a black belt, and yes, black shoes. Along with his chiseled features and his firm but not overbearing stage presence, Alfredo struck me as something like a cross between the actor Liev Schreiber and the lead singer of Green Day but tanguero. And authentically tanguero at that. It was an interesting mix, to be sure.
That mix could be heard in all parts of Alfredo’s music, too. His repertoire featured well-worked tango classics like as “El Choclo” and “Ventarrón” alongside such decidedly non-tango songs as “So Close to Me” by the British alternative rock band The Cure (which was translated here as “Tan Cerca de Mi”) and a few songs by Argentine rock legend Charly García. Alfredo, alongside his musical director, arranger, and guitarist Hernán Reinaudo, was not only able to find a common musical ground between these seemingly disparate repertoires, but made the space between them feel seamless. El Choclo was treated to a fascinating, extended, and atmospheric arrangement that switched between free time passages and the strict, chomping rhythm familiar to more standard renditions of the song (though even the rhythmic sections moved between single and double times at different moments). The rock tunes were not simply given the tango treatment, but approached with a similarly original between-genre sensibility that brought out tango elements in the songs that sounded as if they must have always been there. And this was not a “fusion” band: the only slightly atypical instrument added to the tango group of two guitars, violin, and bass was the cajón, a percussion instrument which is not entirely uncommon in tango groups today.
That Alfredo and his band could pull off such elaborate genre jumping and have it not come off as pretentious or contrived but as if it were second nature seemed amazing to me. But is it amazing? While these musicians are obviously very thoughtful about how they go about doing what it is they do, almost all of us do exactly this kind of genre switching in our daily listening habits without giving it a second thought. (I recognized the different songs they played, for example.) With that in mind, Alfredo’s music, while strikingly original, is not really experimental or vanguard at all. It is simply the product of what young musicians in Buenos Aires are into today—rock, pop, jazz, and tango. What is really amazing about Alfredo Piro, then, is his willingness to be his complete musical self on stage.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Ramiro Gallo Quinteto at the Biblioteca Nacional
A violinist, composer, arranger, and educator of note, I think of Ramiro Gallo as something like the Wynton Marsalis of contemporary tango. Like Marsalis, Ramiro’s music is steeped in the tradition in which he works but has a very modern, original sound. Furthermore, while jazz and tango were once “popular” forms, both Marsalis and Gallo clearly understand and deal with them as “high art.” And while he is quite a bit younger than Marsalis, Gallo is equally professional, elegant, and charismatic. If this is the kind of musical sound, historical perspective, and institutional position that you are attracted to, Gallo, like Marsalis, is at the top of the scene. If not, again like Marsalis, you might find a lot worth complaining about regarding Ramiro’s overall artistic project.
This concert took place at the national library (which is one of the truly shocking architectural facts of Buenos Aires), and was the first in a series of concerts by the group commemorating the library’s recuperation and cataloguing of almost 300,000 pieces of sheet music, many of them old and largely forgotten tangos, that have sat for years in unorganized piles. This kind of cataloguing project, as humdrum as it may seem, cannot be applauded enough, for collections and archives of all sorts are kept in notoriously bad shape here in Argentina. As Gallo announced from the stage, these pieces represent “the sonic memory of Argentina.”
Following the performance of several original pieces featured on the group’s new recording (including a lovely series of miniatures and the haunting “mi gaucha”), the concert featured pieces Gallo had selected from the library’s newly organized collection and arranged for his ensemble. He narrowed his choices down by sticking to the lesser- or un-known work of four composers he feels particularly close to: Joaquín Mora, Francisco de Caro, Juan Carlos Cobián, and Enrique Delfino. The work of each of these composers, he said, provided both rich melodies and space for harmonic interpretation, which was key for his work as an arranger. The result was a surprising mix of the rhythmic snap of early tango with the intricate, almost crystalline density of Gallo’s compositional voice. The band approached the music with poise and vigor, creating an enthusiastic energy that at moments almost broke the scales, especially on the few pieces that featured the endlessly charming singer Ariel Ardit as invited artist.
It was refreshing to hear a group of young musicians approach this older repertoire as if it were a living part of the music being made today, rather than the dusty archival material that it in fact is. These pieces, like old photos, he said, shine a light on the moment in which they were created in unique and special ways. And judging by the group’s performance, this music can shine a light on the contemporary moment in equal measure.
Ramiro Gallo Quinteto, Espejada (EPSA Music) 2006.
Alfredo “Tape” Rubin at the Centro Cultural San Martín
I have been a little lazy keeping up with the posts, though my lack of energy somehow feels appropriate given my overall impression of this concert. Alfredo “Tape” Rubin is a middle aged tango singer and guitarist who was accompanied here by two younger guitar players. Their repertoire consisted on mainly original tangos that were composed by the various members of the group. Several were instrumental, though most of them had lyrics which, while newly composed, kept very self-consciously within the topical guidelines of the genre. That is, there were songs about bad women, heartbroken women, beautiful women, young women in love with older men, women who dance tango, disgraced women, women of the night, women who inspire tango songs, lonely women, etc. There was a song about hard life in the barrio and one about tango nightlife in general, too, though I think enjoyment of this concert really depended on one’s endurance for songs on a certain, specific topic.
Musically, Rubin has a nice tenor voice that made each vocal phrase a real journey, and the guitar arrangements were subtly complex and well executed by the ensemble. I especially liked their frequent use of the guitar’s low register for melodic passages and the quick interchanges between Alfredo’s two accompanists. Like the lyrics, however, the music also seemed to rely too heavily on material that came off sounding somewhat cliché. Some songs, like a tango based on blues phrases, were more adventurous, though to my ears the original material as a whole sounded overly familiar.
That sonic familiarity is the symptom of a problem that I think lies at the core of a lot of current tango composition and performance: a problem of over-identification or over-respect for what tango was. While serious study of and respect for the genre is obviously necessary for any successful rendition of tango today, it seems to me that many musicians, especially composers, can be overly enamored with the limits of the genre. Rather than looking for what new or fresh things their particular experiences can bring to the genre, they seem to be focused on creating compositions that are “passable” vis-à-vis the classic tango repertoire. That, of course, is the definition of academicism. While it makes for music that is enjoyable and often lovely, it also makes for music that, like this week-after-the-fact blog entry, lacks a sense of urgency.
Alfredo “Tape” Rubin, Reina Noche (Acqua Records) 2004.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Colonizados at Pigmalion Tango
Colonizados is a sextet of violin, bandoneón, guitar, bass, tres, and percussion. Given that instrumentation, you could guess that the group is up to something different, and you would be right.
The artistic project of the group is to mix tango with various kinds of Cuban music, especially son. This fusion is conducted mostly by playing traditional tangos such as “El Choclo” and “Uno” in a son style, though they also give some Cuban songs like “Dos Gardenias” and “Lágrimas Negras” the tango treatment. Some of these experiments were more successful than others, of course, but having initially been somewhat suspicious I was pleasantly surprised by how well the two styles went together. The group opened up the perennial “Libertango” into an extended groove that had everyone’s head bobbing, and which featured improvised solos from several band members among whom bandoneónist Matias Rubino and tres player Eduardo Suárez were particularly impressive. They performed a very original arrangement of Anibal Troilo’s milonga “La Trampera” that moved abruptly but fluently between half time and double time tempos. The two or three songs that featured the singing of violinist Geovanny Ruiz were especially enjoyable.
Chatting with percussionist Jorge Romero after the show, it was explained to me that the fusion of tango and son in fact is not such far-fetched idea because both styles share historical roots in common genres like the habanera. Thinking about it that way, fusion projects such as this one seem like they would almost be second nature for contemporary musicians, though I know a lot of tangueros have a certain distain for musical fusions of any sort these days. “Tango is tango,” I have heard several times and in several ways. “It does not need jazz, rock, classical music, etc. It is what it is.” I can understand that perspective too, but I wonder whose loss it is in the end?
Come April, those of you in the US can judge for yourself. Bassist and bandleader Roberto Amerise, who I met at the Nestór Tomassini concert described below and who invited me to this concert, told me that the band will be doing a tour of the US next year, playing at S.O.B.’s in New York City among many other places.
One final note on the venue: this is the third time I have been to the upstairs space of Pigmalion, a relatively new tango venue in Buenos Aires that seems to have everything going for it but which, for me at least, always ends up feeling like more of an impediment than an enabler. It does not help that the most aggressive waiter in the southern hemisphere works there: he is the only person who has seemed genuinely angry when I don’t order the $25 cheese and meat plate, and scoffs when friends order only a glass of wine rather than a whole bottle. I know it is their job to make money, but it is not our job to fill up on meat and cheese on demand. More serious issues are an overly resonant acoustics that swallows up and muddies the sound, and decor that make the room feel more like a highly formal dance studio with a bar than a music venue. I hate to complain, because there is by no means an overabundance of music venues in Buenos Aires these days, many of which were closed following a tragic nightclub fire in December 2004 in which almost 200 people died. The musicians, too, seem grateful to have the opportunity to perform there. But for me, going to concerts at this place always feels a little more like work than I wish it did.
Colonizados, TangoSon (La Salsera A.C.) 2006.
Orquesta Típica Cerda Negra at the Club Atletico Fernandez Fierro
“We have a sad past in Argentina. We have studied that past, and we are going to make the present as good as possible.” That was the send-off message from the stage as Orquesta Típica Cerda Negra finished their under-attended set at the Club Atletico Fernandez Fierro (CAFF) last Friday night.
Some of that sad past was laid out in detail by a massive poster that covered part of two walls in the back corner of the club. The poster, originally in German but translated into Spanish, outlined political and economic connections between corporations like Mercedez Benz, the Nazis, and the Argentine government of Juan Perón, the selling off of Argentine national lands to foreign companies like Benetton in the 1990s and the consequences it has had for indigenous groups, and the horrors of the last military dictatorship, during which as many as 30,000 civilians were kidnapped, tortured, and “disappeared” by the government under a policy of state terror. And this more than “sad” past is still frighteningly alive here today: the newspaper headlines of the last several weeks have been dominated by the current government’s increasingly desperate search for a key witness in the trial of a former police repressor and torturer who vanished the day before the trial concluded. The government and human rights groups fear that he may have been “disappeared” for having come forward to testify (though the use of that specific term has been highly controversial). The same night as this concert, nearly 100,000 people marched to the Plaza de Mayo, the main public square in front of the president’s house, demanding the reappearance of the missing witness alive.
The CAFF and the groups who play there are obviously deeply engaged with the political past of Argentina: what other music club would have this kind of poster on the wall? That said, the Orquesta Típica Cerda Negra has clearly studied their musical past as well. An ensemble of eleven members in the historically resonant orquesta típica format (a tango big band of bandoneónes, violins, piano, bass, ‘cello, and singer), the group ripped through nearly flawless renditions of tango classics such as Pugliese’s “La Yumba” and Piazzolla’s “Libertango.” The precision of their performance was all the more impressive because almost every member of the band is under twenty years old, with some of them as young as sixteen. I mean, my high school funk band was pretty good, but these kids are really talented.
The band really came alive, however, when playing their original compositions. These both drew upon and extended the musical vocabulary of the genre and the sonic palate of the orquesta típica in very interesting and original ways: they used dense and lush harmonies that moved in unexpected but not jarring progressions; they had moments of rhythmic counterpoint that were at once highly tense and totally static; and they had the most fluid, extreme, and effective use of dynamics I have ever heard in an orquesta típica. Most of the compositions were written, I think, by seventeen-year-old pianist and bandleader Agustín Guerrero, who has clearly been listening to his Debussy and Stravinsky records along with his Triolo and Pugliese tango discs.
Given the age of the group, the quality of their performance, and the strength of their original compositions, Orquesta Típica Cerda Negra, having studied the past, is not only making the present of tango music “as good as possible,” but laying the groundwork for the future as well.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Néstor Tomassini at Bar Tuñón
Bar Tuñón is a fantastic little place on Maipu between Córdoba y Paraguay. There is a restaurant on the first floor, with the performance space downstairs. Named in homage to the militant writer and poet of Argentine street life Raúl González Tuñón (1905-1974), Bar Tuñón oozes an infectiously pleasant atmosphere, even more so now that the new anti-smoking laws have gone into effect in Buenos Aires. You read that right, folks: no more smoking in public places in Buenos Aires as of last Sunday. It’s hard to believe but true.
We were there to hear the tango clarinetist Néstor Tomassini present his new CD, De Corte Antiguo. You read that right, too: tango clarinetist. Because I myself play saxophone and clarinet—instruments rarely heard in contemporary tango—this concert was all the more interesting and special for me. Néstor was accompanied throughout the concert by a singe guitarist, and was joined on several selections by a bassist and percussionist who played the cajón, a musical wooden box that the player sits on top of and slaps with their hands like a skinned drum. The group's repertoire was dominated by both classic and lesser known tangos and milongas (an upbeat sub genre of tango) from the early history of the music, which, given the instrumentation they had, they played in a very romping and rollicking style. Tomassini attacked his clarinet lines with an intensity that was reminiscent of klezmer clarinet playing, slipping and sliding around the edge of the instrument’s capabilities to the point that some notes and a few whole phrases were squawked away and lost in the air. As a clarinet player, I could identify with this energetic, agressive, and joyful style playing, and was impressed by how different it was from the crisp precision you hear in a lot of tango music, due probably to the instrumental qualities of the bandoneón, where there are no "inbetween" notes.
This kind of groove heavy, percussion added tango music seems to be something of a phenomenon these days. While this style is obviously contemporary (it would not be too much of a stretch for some listeners to hear it as “world music”), it is interesting that the musicians themselves often imagine it as being more closely related to how tango originally sounded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when wind instruments such as the flute or clarinet were much more common in tango music. Today this kind of playing can be heard as making certain kinds of claims regarding the Afro-Argentine influence in early tango, which some people believe has been ignored or neglected in common understandings of the genre's origins and history. That, of course, is a big debate, and I am not going to go there in this blog entry, but if you are interested you can check out the recent (and polemical) book Tango: an Art History of Love by Yale art history professor Robert Farris Thompson (Pantheon 2005). No such claims were made from the stage last night, however, at least not verbally.
Aside from Tomassini, the MVP of this concert was guitarist Hernán Reinaudo, who I know from the fantastic group 34 puñaladas and who had invited me to the concert. Hernán contributed the only original song to the program (which unfortunately is not on the CD) and was given space for a solo rendition of the vals “Ojos azules” by (I think) composer and guitarist Miguel Cafre (1881-1936), which was among the evening’s highlights. Hernán has an instrumental voice that is at once virtuosic and tender, deeply expressive and lighthearted: quite a winning combination in my opinion.
Néstor Tomassini, De Corte Antiguo (Art Menu/EPSA Music) 2006.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
33 de Mano and Ricardo Reches at the Centro Cultural de la Cooperación
There is a regular Tuesday evening tango series hosted by the Centro Cultural de la Cooperación (CCC) on Avenida Corrientes which I try to make it to semi-regularly, though tonight was the first time I have been there in a long time. The place itself is very interesting. Privately funded by a cooperative Argentine bank called Banco Credicoop, the CCC is, according to their own literature, “a space dedicated to the arts and social sciences...whose orientation is inscribed in the principles and values of cooperation, which it affirms in an anti-capitalist sensibility and through social and cultural progress.” The CCC features several spaces for theatrical and musical performances, hosts lectures and discussion on all kinds of political and artistic topics, has an art gallery, a leftist bookstore, a cafe, and spaces for different research groups hosted by the institution, etc. The Tuesday night tango series can be hit or miss, but it books less well known performers that you would probably not hear elsewhere and it is free, so you can’t really go wrong.
Tonight the music was more of a miss, I am afraid. I saw a double bill of a group called 33 de Mano and a singer named Ricardo Reches. 33 de Mano is a trio of two guitars plus a singer. They concentrated on classic tango repertoire, especially that of bandoneón virtuoso and bandleader Anibal Troilo and guitarist Roberto Grela. The guitarists were quite good, though they seemed overly distracted by minute tuning issues and played in a somewhat lackluster, academic style. Maybe they were nervous, but their songs seemed more to fall off the page than to really end (though they were playing from memory). The singer was doing his part, though he too was rather unanimated. The audience, which seemed to be a mix of regular attendees (mostly senior citizens) and friends of the group, seemed to like it well enough, with someone calling out to the musicians to tell them how lovely they thought their selection of songs was. The hall for the tango concerts at the CCC is quite intimate, which facilitates these kinds of interactions between the musicians and their very vocal audiences, which are quite common.
The second group, Ricardo Reches, did not go over so well. Ricardo is a singer and guitarist who specializes in original tango songs. He was accompanied on a few of his songs by his brother Miguel Reches, who sang, and by his cousin Lucía Moledo, who played percussion. The songs were pleasant enough, though somewhat banal (stories about falling in love with a stranger on the train who gets off before you can speak to them, etc), and I have to applaud anyone who is trying to write new tango songs, which is no small task. The real killer for me, however, was the air of pretentiousness that Ricardo brought to the stage, with the performance falling flat under the weight of him trying so hard to seem like he was not trying at all. There were some nice musical moments, especially the quick vocal duets between Ricardo and his brother, who had an amazingly high, nasal voice. But whatever momentum was generated during the songs was completely dissipated by Ricardo’s on stage banter and repeated requests for applause. Others in the audience seemed to share my less than enthusiastic sentiment, with a steady trickle of people heading for the doors throughout the performance and no requests for the usually obligatory “otra” when the show came to an end. Ricardo has a CD titled Llega el Tren.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Selección Nacional de Tango at the Teatro Colón
The term “selección” is used in Argentina to name the teams that represent the nation as a whole at international sporting events such as the World Cup or the Copa Libertadores. Those players who make the selección are the best of the best, and as with soccer or basketball, so with tango.
The selección nacional de tango is a super-group made up of some of the greatest living tango musicians. The selección takes the form of an “orquesta típica,” a kind of tango big band that is made up, in this case, of fifteen musicians: six violins, five bandoneónes (a button squeeze box instrument typical of tango), viola, ‘cello, bass, and piano. The group features some of the most well known tango players alive today, including “grandes” such as Leopoldo Federico, Ernesto Baffa, Julio Pane, and Horacio Cabarcos, as well as some relatively young stars such as bandoneonist Pablo Mainetti and violinist Damián Bolotín. Aside from being superb players, many members of the selección are or have been important composers and bandleaders, and the group draws upon the collective talent and experience of its members in a way that I was told is historically unique in tango. It has a rotating leadership, in which many of the players write or arrange music for the group and serve as its leader when playing those works, but serve as sidemen when playing work produced by others. This kind of arrangment makes not only for a good exercise in musical humility, but also for a very stylistically diverse listening experience.
At least eight different composers or arrangers produced the nearly twenty pieces that the selección played, each with their own approach to the diverse sonic possibilities of the orquesta típica format. Pablo Mainetti’s arrangement of his composition “Tango azul” shifted between impressionistic rubato sections and more dense rhythmic jolts. Julio Pane, who many musicians I have spoken with consider the greatest bandoneón player alive today, flexed his muscles as a soloist during his “A las orquestas,” making it all look and sound effortless. The first real eruption from the audience followed Ernesto Baffa’s arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s classic “Adiós Nonino,” about half way through the concert. After the loud cheers and applause died down following this piece, someone in the crowd called out “thank you Astor!” Leopoldo Federico joined the band late in their set, and his very presence clearly made the evening a special event for many in the audience. Federico seems to be getting up in the years, and needed some assistance reaching his seat at the front of the orquesta. Once there, though, he proved that he very much still has the fire in him, executing a series of virtuosic and highly energetic solo and tutti bandoneón passages. Indeed, what impressed me most about the selección as a whole was the intricacy of their arrangements and the poised intensity with which they performed them, especially as they approached the thundering conclusions of pieces that often ended with a surprising gentleness through use of the typical hesitation cadence. That said, I personally think the MVP of the evening was Damián Bolotín, who had a series of superbly executed violin solos throughout the concert, though he did not contribute arrangements.
The band was joined for two songs by the dancers Mora Godoy and Junior Cervilla, who danced in the highly athletic “escenario” style of tango dance (including a complete flip by Ms. Godoy that landed her in the final pose exactly on the downbeat). Ms. Godoy and Mr. Cervilla are fabulous dancers, though I must admit that I have yet to discover the real appeal of this kind of tango dance. Singer Adriana Varela, who is among the most well-known and successful tango singers active today, also joined the selección for two songs. I had never heard Varela perform live before, having missed her solo concert a few weeks back, so I was very much looking forward to hearing her here. Unfortunately, however, the sound system was arranged in such a way that from where I was sitting—close to the stage but high up near the top of the room—her voice sounded like little more than a faint grumble. Nevertheless, Varela clearly has a commanding stage presence, and following her two short features many in the audience called out her name asking for more, which did not come.
The selección, on the other hand, had no problem filling up the hall with sound, though it seemed that it took them some time to fill up the large and highly formal space with energy. By the end of the concert, however, the audience was on their feet and demanding more. The group apparently did not have encores prepared, and obliged the audience by repeating two of the pieces they had performed earlier in the concert, which did not seem to disappoint anyone, including me. It should also be noted that the Hugo Rivas cuarteto—three guitars and a bass—opened the evening with the quietly virtuosic performance of four classics from the tango repertoire. I do not know much about Rivas, but will keep an ear out for him, as I very much liked what I heard here.
This performance was one in a series of tango concerts that are being given in the Teatro Colón this season. The Colón is by far the most spectacular and significant performance venue for “serious music” in Argentina, its overall opulence making Carnegie hall in New York look like no big deal. I have been told that the fact that the Colón is hosting tango concerts is quite significant for many in the tango community here, representing both a recognition and validation of the value and quality of their current work by the musical establishment and the city government (which owns and operates the theater). Though this is by no means the first time tango has ever been played in the Colón, judging by this concert alone, it is welcome and very much belongs there today.
Selección Nacional de Tango. En Vivo (Típica Records) 2006.