Friday, October 05, 2007


Cuarteto Cedrón, Frisón Frisón (Acqua Records) 2006.

Wrestling with categories is a cliché of criticism. When trying to describe the work of real artists, labeling their music X or describing their style as Y seems to always leave too much out and gloss over too much of what is left. (Just ask Ken Burns about “jazz.”) In the case of Juan “Tata” Cedrón, it really does feel difficult if not unfair to describe him as a tango singer, a tango guitarist, or even a tango composer. As trite as it may sound, these categories just do not begin to cover the depth and range of Cedrón’s music. He is an artist, plain and simple. And his music makes one of the most compelling cases for why tango as a genre might still be relevant today.
Cedrón does this not by bridging tango’s post-Piazzolla tendencies towards either the popular or the erudite—party music or concert music—but by obliterating them. With its lumbering, lunging rhythmic base and its organic approach to melodic and harmonic development, Cedrón’s music renders tango’s dearly held divisions between high and low, popular and art, simple and complex irrelevant and, frankly, almost embarrassing. That it does this in an unobtrusive way makes it all that much more refreshing. Cedrón’s music does not bang you over the head: it is not going to start an artistic revolution or launch a thousand ships. No, like the knife-wielding compadritos that inhabit Borges’ fictions, Cedrón’s music waits patiently along the edge of the action, absorbed in its immediate concerns, almost unnoticed. It will strike only when provoked, but kill you with the flair of an artist when it does… Ok, Ok, I am getting carried away, but you need to hear this guy!

Cedrón is quite a bit older than many of the artists I write about here, a member of the so-called “lost generation” of musicians committed to tango between the end of its “golden age” in the late 1950s and the current renovation of the genre. Even within that group, Cedrón is something of an outsider, having lived in France for nearly thirty years and only recently returning to Buenos Aires for good. During his years abroad, Cedrón released a long series of excellent recordings that together trace the evolutionary consistency of his unique music, of which this recent disc, Frisón Frisón, is a logical extension. His compositions, often rooted in the traditional rhythmic and structural frameworks of tango, milonga campera, and vals, grumble along in a space between oblivion and ecstasy, violence and tenderness, hope and abandonment, but without sentimentality. His arrangements and ensemble favor the lower registers, highlighting the left hand of the bandoneón and substituting a viola for the violin, which do not support his voice as much as dance around it. And what a voice it is. Imagine if Neil Young had been born in Argentina and spent thirty years in Latin Quarter cafes smoking cigarettes and sipping vino tinto with soda late into the night, giving him an oddly delicate and nasal high register and a gravelly, almost coughing low end. Add a PhD in Latin American literature to that image we begin to approach Juan Cedrón. Indeed, Cedrón’s near scholarly engagement with literature is at the heart of his musical concept, which involves setting preexisting texts by Argentine writers to new, original music. These texts, of course, were usually not intended to be used this way, but one would never know it when listening to Cedrón’s careful settings. Many of his recordings concentrate on the work of a singe author—often giants like Cortázar or Tuñón. With Frisón Frisón, Cedrón applies himself to the unedited material of super lyricist Homero Manzi (1907—1951).

Marking the centennial year of Manzi’s birth, the songs heard here are alternately reserved and bawdy, and feature Cedrón’s voice not only in the company of his eponymous quartet of guitar, bandoneón, viola and bass but also an ensemble of four guitars (a classic setting for tango song) and even an orquesta típica. This last group is featured on an (ironically) instrumental piece by one of Manzi’s most celebrated collaborators, Aníbal Troilo. This large ensemble piece gives a nice sense of context for the kind of music Manzi was listening to in his day, but the project really shines on Cedrón’s original compositions. The slow agony of “Espejito de agua” dissolves into a concluding passage of solo viola, over which Cedrón, in a speaking voice, almost whispers the final lines. “Mala estrella” features lovely interplay between the voice, the viola, and the bandoneón, making it sound as if it was conceived as a trio for tango ensemble rather than a tango song. The texts themselves, of course, are a pleasure, though I am not enough of an expert on Manzi to know how big of a contribution releasing these songs will make to our understanding of him as an artist and historical figure. Though all in all, this recording makes a great introduction to two fascinating figures, Manzi and Cedrón.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?