Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro at La Trastienda
The Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro is the granddaddy of the contemporary orquesta típica movement in Buenos Aires, having pioneered the rough-edged approach to large ensemble tango that has served as a model for many of the orquestas tipicas playing today.
Tonight, the group was presenting their fourth CD, titled “Mucha Mierda.” A cultural translation of that title would be something like “break a leg.” However, judging by the set and props the band had on stage—a backdrop that made the wall look like a tiled bathroom, a giant chain for flushing the toilet hanging from the ceiling, a massive roll of toilet paper set to the side of the bandoneón section, and a large disco ball with fake flies attached to it—I think they had a more literal translation in mind: “lots of shit.”
I have seen this group play many times over the past several years, and am always impressed by the sheer power of their sound and performance. With their singer—Walter “Chino” Laborde, who is just fabulous—the band has a dozen members on stage. And though most of them play relatively “delicate” instruments like the violin and bandoneón, when the group gets going they can really shake the walls. The bandoneón players just smash the music out of their instruments, replacing the delicate bounce of most players with an aggressive thrashing that is wildly exciting visually and musically compelling as well. It may not be too healthy for the instruments, though. Towards the end of the set the band had to take a lengthy pause while one of the banoneonists fixed his instrument. He had been broken it during the previous song.
During the pause the singer talked and joked with the audience, asking the crowd of several hundred how many were seeing tango live for the first time that night, and how many were seeing Fernandez Fierro for the first time. Judging by the show of hands, a pretty high percentage of the audience were newcomers, both to the genre and to the band. (He also asked if there were any Argentines in the audience, receiving an enthusiastic but not overwhelming cheer in response. I would guess that about 40% of the audience was foreign.)
For those who had never seen this band play live before, much less not heard tango live before, the evening must have been quite an event. However, for a more dedicated fan like me, I fear that the band's once innovative and indeed revolutionary approach to tango might be descending into the realm of shtick. They have added some new and very original material to their repertoire—I especially liked a new arrangement of an Argentine zamba that featured the violin section accompanied by only the piano—but they also continue to play many of the same songs in the same way that they have for the past several years. That, of course, is no sin, just ask the Rolling Stones. But when the same songs also appear on several of their recordings, I begin to doubt. That said, and especially for newcomers, Fernandez Fierro probably still makes for one of the most exciting musical nights out in Buenos Aires, and should not be missed.
Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro, Mucha Mierda (Derechos del Autor) 2006.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Orquesta Típica Fervor de Buenos Aires in San Telmo
This was one of those hot Buenos Aires nights in which we could go out to dinner at 11 pm, eat at a comfortable pace, take two different buses to the concert on the other side of town, and still arrive early. Lesson learned: if you want to see and hear tango in Buenos Aires you have to love these late nights, or at least be up for them.
Fervor de Buenos Aires is one of the many new Orquestas Típicas playing in Buenos Aires today. Orquestas Típicas are like tango big bands, with sections of several violins and bandoneones accompanied by a rhythm section of piano and bass. It is an instrumentation that can pack quite a punch, and make you feel why tango, despite its complexity, is really a visceral dance music before anything else.
Directed by pianist Javier Arias, Fervor de Buenos Aires takes its inspirational cue from the writings of J.L. Borges (from whose work they take their name) and the stylistic approach to tango associated with pianist, composer, and bandleader Carlos Di Sarli (1903-1960). Di Sarli, who is one of the key figures from the earlier “golden age” of orchestral tango, was known for a crisp style that emphasized quick interchanges between sections and a mostly rhythmic rather than melodic use of the bandoneones. And while they do not play with the hard driving energy I have heard in other Orquestas, Fervor de Buenos Aires executes the Di Sarli style with clarity and grace. I especially liked how seamlessly the piano would interject quick musical ideas in the cracks of the violin parts. They have clearly been doing their homework—intense study of their musical predecessors—and that work is paying off: the band played several of Arias’ original compositions that both fit within the Di Sarli mold and brought something new and distinct to it. It is from this kind of work that tango is going to move forward in the years ahead.
By the end of the concert, the small room where the performance took place was so overheated that everyone almost ran out into the patio to get some fresh air. The band was really feeling it. Sweating entirely through their nearly matching green shirts, they looked more like a rough and tumble Boston bar band than a refined tango orchestra. You have to suffer for your art, so they say. Outside, it had cooled off a bit from what had been a sweltering day. It was December first, and just starting to become summer. I really felt like I had been part of something special, and look forward to feeling the fervor on many more such nights.
Orquesta Típica Fervor de Buenos Aires, Quién Sos (Derechos del Autor) 2006.