Tango! (or something like it)
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Tango, or Something Like It
Micheal Stone looks to see where things have been going in the new century

The 1930s brought recording technology to Argentina, which sparked local exposure to jazz via the big-band recordings of Ellington, Basie, Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and others. In rough chronological order, guitarist Oscar Alemán (who backed Josephine Baker and played with Django Reinhardt), bandoneon master Dino Saluzzi, Juan Carlos Cáceres (piano, trombone, voice), saxophonist Gato Barbieri, and composer Lalo Schrifrin are important seminal figures in Argentine jazz. It was only in the 1960s, however, after visits by Dizzy Gillespie among others, that local figures like Schifrin, Caceres, Barbieri, and Astor Piazzolla began to garner international notice. Military dictatorship suppressed jazz's development, although Piazzolla recorded with the likes of Gerry Mulligan and Gary Burton in the 1970s and 1980s. Today a younger generation has enjoyed the benefits of conservatory training and broad exposure to international jazz. Argentina boasts numerous jazz festivals and radio stations, and a lively club scene that values originality over slavish emulation of the neo-bebop canon.

Dino Saluzzi relates that the bandoneon "found" him around age seven, learning from his father (who in turn learned from his immigrant Italian great uncle), another way of saying that (ancestrally, artistically, philosophically, spiritually) there was no other path for Saluzzi except music. Born in 1935, he was of the generation of artists for whom the tango nuevo of Piazzolla was a singular influence. But Saluzzi has never been anyone's imitator, as a pair of recent recordings only confirm.

Recorded in Buenos Aires, Juan Condori calls on three extended family members - Felix "Cuchara" Saluzzi (tenor, soprano, and clarinet), José María Saluzzi (acoustic and electric guitars), Matias Saluzzi (bass guitar, double bass)-and U.T. Gandhi (drums, percussion), on a repertoire of mostly original Saluzzi compositions. As a composer and performer, Saluzzi backs away from the tango label, insisting (we read in the notes), "I always simply say, 'I play music, sir.' And I hope that is enough... Does the music touch you or not? This is what matters." That is how to perceive the ever-shifting textures and timbres of this recording, closely, slowly, recursively, evocative of memory and sentiments that startle with the sudden immediacy of something half forgotten, lost and found, transformed through the signature of time, elusive as poetry-once, perhaps-almost known.

A kindred spirit animates Ojos Negros (recorded in Austria in 2006), the recent collaboration between Saluzzi and classically trained German cellist Anja Lechner. She first performed in Argentina in the early 1980s, but was disenchanted to learn that many of the tango masters had taken flight to Europe and North America. Lechner finally heard Saluzzi perform in Germany, where her Rosamunde Quartett eventually recorded with him in 1996. Lechner's improvisatory leanings lend this collaboration an expansive expressive character. No mere technical imitative shine here, but a raptness that opens fresh traces, grounded in yet freed by the discipline of classical training, a function of inquisitive mutual listening and a desire to comprehend something outside one's own household cultural living room. Ojos Negros, a delicate duet of mostly Saluzzi original, presents a sentient oeuvre rooted in two instruments, two traditions, two continents, but tied to none, elaborated in the many routes the music we call tango has taken through time, space, memory, shadow, light, and existential sentiment. With time to spare, an open heart and mind, some thoughtful friends at hand, a worthy red wine, attentive to the soundings within, spin this pair of titles and see where time may lead. That should be enough.

Journeyman Juan Carlos Cáceres arrived in Paris from Argentina in May 1968, no accident by his own account. A longtime student and conservator of tango, candombe, murga, and milonga-and a painter and scholar of the history of music in the River Plate-Cáceres is among few artists born in the 1940s to champion the neglected African influences in Argentine music. His gravelly voice, honking trombone, hard-bopping piano, and composition talents mark Cáceres as something of a existentialist renaissance man. La Vuelta de Malon invokes one of the legendary ensembles he founded in Paris, Malon, with Marcelo Rusillo (drums, percussion) and Carlos el Tero Buschini (bass, percussion), and guests Javier Girotto (saxes) and David Pecetto (bandoneon, accordion). There's a certain rabble-rousing Latin rock sensibility here (Santana is an accredited early influence), a driving percussive spirit, with occasional ballads ("Solo un sueño"), straight-ahead jazz ("La nueva"), and solo piano ("No te mueras nunca"). Cáceres is an original, a trailblazer for a younger generation of tangueros that have come to the fore beginning in the 1990s.

La Camorra, founded in Buenos Aires in 1992 by a quintet of conservatory trained artists (Luciano Jungman-bandoneón; Jorge Omar Kohan-guitar; Sebastián Prusak-violin; Hugo César Asrin-double bass; Nicolás Guerschberg-piano), has won awards from the Astor Piazzolla Center, the Clarín media group, and the Chamber Music Competition-Festivales Musicales in Argentina, and from Spain's Cuadernos de Jazz. Their fifth release, 12 Postales (12 postcards) presents a dozen original tangos composed by the group's members, reflecting a grounding as much in classical and jazz idioms as in tango. Created and sustained by five expressive and diversely talented musicians of the first rank, this is serious, high-caliber contemporary art house tango.

Another Clarín and Cuadernos de Jazz prizewinner is tenor saxist Luis Nacht, with Juan Pablo Arredondo (guitar), Jerónimo Carmona (contrabass), and Carto Brandón (drums) rounding out the quartet. Nacht studied flute and guitar as a youth before going on to study sax in Mexico and New York City, as well as in Argentina. A veteran of tours in Mexico, the United States, and Europe, Nacht's arrangements and original compositions (all but one are his on El Presente) have won critical note at home and abroad. Consider Nacht's "Bosta Nostra," with a noir-ish lyrical nod to neighboring Brazil (a southern "Harlem Nocturne," perhaps), or Arredondo's "El perfume de la tierra mojada," a moody paean that draws as much on Ornette Coleman (think "Lonely Woman") as it does on more localized expressive traditions. (A nod to Ricardo Piglia for passing this one my way.)

La Chicana's Tango Agazapado (Galileo), their first international release, won the Premio Carlos Gardel in 2004 (as reviewed elsewhere in RootsWorld). Those unfamiliar with the singular team of singer Dolores Solá and Acho Estol (guitar, voice, songwriting, arrangements, direction) can catch up with two other equally unkempt tango titles. La Chicana's earlier number, Un Giro Extraño (thanks to Andrés Di Tella for this 2000 title) offers such smuggled tango introductions as "Los años de joda de Anibal" (better known in some parts as "Frank's Wild Years," by Tom Waits, "a great tanguero, although he might not know it," says Estol). Likewise, chamamé aficionados may recognize the lyrical accordion of Chango Spasiuk on "La foto del escarabajo" ("photo of a scarab beetle"), followed by the title track ("strange trip"), a tale of mutually assured paranoiac-demented dependency, a ragged encounter with early morning cockroaches (shades of Kafka run through this one), and a bad, bad coffee habit.

La Chicana's Lejos ("far away") is their latest, further indication of the state of tango among artists born in the 1960s and afterwards. Among its changes of pace are Tom Zé's "Tó," a rollicking, forro-tinged window on a world of good-natured, hapless opposites; a fado-like "Delator," with Estol on Portuguese guitar; "Lo que hay" ("what is"), a swinging percussive tune, half country western, half son jarocho; and "Viaje astral" ("astral voyage"), anarchy and ennui straight from Clockwork Orange, or somewhere like it. Throughout we have Solá's worn, knowing voice, Estol's wry poetic take on the vicissitudes of terminal alienation, and a superb collection of instrumentalists who give flight to the material, evidence aplenty that tango is anything but a museum piece for diehard descendents of Gardel. This is tattered 21st-century tango for the mortally disaffected, one more manifestation of the ever-present late modern condition.

While tango has drawn on a world of influences, in turn, much of the rest of the world has come to terms of sorts with tango. While it remains a challenge to generate audiences for tango in the United States, there is a growing network of community and university tango dance clubs; perhaps a viable listenership is in the making. Europe has long been taken with tango, of course, and has harbored its expatriates, so it's hardly surprising to find accomplished ensembles on the continent.

Among them is Quadro Nuevo (Mulo Francel-sax, clarinets; Robert Wolf-guitar; Andreas Hinterseher-accordion, bandoneon, vibrandoneon; D. D. Lowka-contrabass, percussion), a quartet formed in Salzburg in 1996, after its members were individually commissioned to produce soundtrack material for ORF, the Austrian radio and television broadcasting network. Wolf had previously toured with Paco de Lucia, while the other members brought a mixed background of jazz, Latin, and Paris café experience. Quadro Nuevo has toured widely in Europe, Canada, the Balkans, Turkey, and the Far East. Tango Bitter Sweet reflects a proficient, eclectic, stylistically conversant repertoire of tango, valse musette, flamenco, and jazz.

Dutch tenor saxophonist and composer Dick de Graaf formed Trio Nuevo (named in a clear nod to Piazzolla) with violinist Michael Gustorff and accordionist Hans Sparla-and singer Sandra Coelers on four tunes. The title Jazz Meets Tango (recorded in Holland in 2006) pretty much speaks for itself, presenting tangos and milongas old and new, a mix of de Graaf originals, and de Graaf-arranged classics by Piazzolla and Gardel. The three original jazz compositions owe much to tango, and show more than a bit of classical influence, a sign of close study and fidelity to the underlying sources of inspiration. This is neither casual "tango-lite" novelty for jazz, nor mere technical reproduction, but an astute engagement between genres on fluid, mutually negotiable terms. - Michael Stone

On the radio: Micheal Stone's Jazz Worldwide is on every Monday from 8:00 to 10:00 PM Eastern Time (US) on WWFM HD2 (high definition FM broadcasting), Trenton-Princeton, New Jersey

Some of these recordings are available from cdRoots

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cd cover

Dino Saluzzi Group
Juan Condori
ECM (www.ecmrecords.com / www.saluzzimusic.com)

Dino Saluzzi & Anja Lechner
Ojos Negros

Tango Negro Trio
La Vuelta del Malon
Felmay (www.felmay.it)

La Camorra Tango
Presenta 12 Postales
Galileo (www.lacamorra-tango.com.ar)

Luis Nacht
El Presente
Bau Records( www.baurecords.com.ar / www.luisnacht.com.ar)

La Chicana
Un Giro Extraño
Acqua Records

La Chicana
Galileo (www.lachicanatango.com)

Quadro Nuevo
Tango Bitter Sweet
GLM Music (www.glm.de)

Trio Nuevo
Jazz Meets Tango
Soundroots Records (www.trionuevo.eu)

Some CDs available from cdRoots

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