Thursday, December 13, 2007


Walter “Chino” Laborde y Diego “Dipi” Kvitko, Tango Tango Volumen 1 (Típica Records) 2006.

“Chino” Laborde is probably best known as the hyper-charismatic singer for the Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro. His performances with that group are both absolutely genuine and totally over the top: he sings about the deep pains of loss and nostalgia at the heart of many tango songs in a way that would bring water to the eyes if he were not sporting an electric blue afro wig, a Japanese kimono, or holding a grotesquely large (and empty) bottle of wine. His performances come off as ironically sincere, with the goofy visuals more about tempering the sometimes extreme sentiments of classic tango in a way that allows his generation of young Argentines to identify with the genre rather than be embarrassed by it. And it is all there musically: Laborde’s baritone ranges from a hushed speaking voice to near-operatic outbursts, and he steers each song through a carefully constructed dramatic arc based on attention to details, hanging on single words if not individual syllables.

Unfortunately, as the Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro has moved more firmly in the rockero direction over the past few years—with heavier accents, faster tempos, and (at times monotonously) louder volumes—they have left little if any room for the more subtle aspects of Laborde’s voice. This is too bad, not only because they essentially waste Laborde’s many real talents as a singer, but because without the musical nuance his goofball performances with the group can begin to border on kitsch. Listening to the recent recording Tango Tango Volumen 1, then, I can’t help but imagine that Laborde has been feeling the same way.

Here, in lieu of the large orquesta, the setting is reduced to the bare minimum of Laborde’s voice and the single guitar of Diego “Dipi” Kvitko. They focus on the greatest of the great songs from the classic tango repertoire, which are supplemented by one original vals by Laborde and an instrumental milonga by Kvitko. Their devotion to this repertoire is articulated through genre designations that operate as a lexicon of enthusiastic Argentine slang, and provide the title of the album. These songs are not just tangos, but tango tangos or tangazos (including “Cristal,” “Cuando me entrés a fallar,” “9 de Julio,” and other classiscs).

Lyrics for the songs are usefully printed in the liner notes, and while there is no English translation provided, cracking open the Spanish dictionary would be highly rewarded as understanding even the gist of the texts will greatly enhance your appreciation of the songs. It will also help you understand why the disc comes packaged with a small dagger: when, at the final verse of “Antiguo reloj de cobre,” an apparition of the desperately broke narrator’s dead mother appears before him to tell him that his deceased father forgives him for pawning the family’s heirloom copper watch for just “four dirty pesos,” you are going to want to plunge the metaphoric blade in your heart like Romeo over Juliet. That’s why they call it tango tango!

If the songs are great, the performances are good. The duo format makes the songs flexible as if made of soft clay, which I am sure is thrilling for musicians who might feel suffocated by larger ensembles. But all too often that same flexibility impedes the overall drive of a song, especially at the conclusions, where songs that you want to explode with a bang here tend to fade with a quiet sigh. Kvitko, who also plays in the quartet of legendary guitarist Aníbal Arias, is a proficient guitarist and nice arranger, but he just does not have the power to keep up with Laborde in this intimate of a setting. On the recording, the mismatch between the two performers is at worst distracting; when playing live (I heard them last year in Buenos Aires) Kvitko might as well be in another room. The record picks up on the handful of tracks that feature an ensemble of three or four guitarists, a more familiar instrumentation for accompanying sung tangos like these, and for good reason. These songs are often larger than life, as are those, like Laborde, who sing them convincingly. If his work with large ensembles has not given Laborde enough space with the songs, the duo, almost ironically, gives him too much.

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