n September 2005 I returned to Buenos Aires for a 10-month stay. I had been away for 25 years, during which I developed a deep involvement with tango music. Today, a trip to BA for a tango musician is like a trip to Mecca. Tango is very much in the air, much more so than when I first started playing this music in the late 1980's, while
living in Los Angeles. I was eager to get involved in new expressions of tango.
Through my work with Avantango in the last 10 years, I worked to develop a style in which the tango language is approached with a jazz methodology. In other words, a limited amount of preconceived musical information is transformed by the spontaneous creativity of the
individual musicians and by the interaction of the group.
Ironically, upon my arrival in Buenos Aires I became involved in the thriving local jazz scene, where I found the creativity I was looking for. It would seem a stereotype to say that all Argentine musicians
know how to play tango, and it is plainly not true. However, I found in the local jazz circles a fertile pool of musicians who were professionally and creatively engaged in both worlds. Soon enough I met the musicians who I felt were closest to my ideas about "mixing" tango and jazz.
I selected a number of tango standards from different eras, sketched a basic arrangement for each and turned the band loose. What developed was, after all these years, what I have been searching for in my music: spontaneity and style. The musicians in this recording are so steeped in the tango language, that event though this is on the surface a standard jazz quintet, what we hear is tango.
However, we don't hear the elaborate arrangements of classic tango, played with rehearsed precision, with the weight of tradition bearing upon the interpretation. The sound of these sessions is to me the ultimate encounter between Miles and Troilo, Monk and Pugliese, a fusion, if any purity is left in that word, of two cultures that have
historically been connected for a century.
Eduardo Arolas was one of the most important composers of the early 1900’s, part of a generation that shaped the music then recently baptized as tango criollo into what now we call simply tango. His compositions are widely performed today as they have been the last 80 years. He was also an influential though short-lived bandleader, and as a bandoneonist he created the effect known as the arrastre, a fundamental feature of the tango performance style. In the second section of La Cachila, a two-part composition, he created a chord progression of clear roots in the milonga and its ancestor the guajira that is a staple of many modern compositions including those of Astor Piazzolla.
Pianist and bandleader Carlos Di Sarli is one of the most distinctive stylists of the tango tradition. Picking up on the stately elegance pioneered by Osvaldo Fresedo, Di Sarli’s 1950’s recordings are definitive.
Bahia Blanca, one of his signature pieces, has two gorgeous sections in G minor. Gustavo Bergalli channels Miles Davis in his exquisite reading of the tune.
Agustin Bardi is another pillar of the early tango repertoire whose music is still currently played. Tinta Verde is not among his best known compositions but it is an emblematic piece. The A section is a clever milonga riff, first in major and then in minor. In this arrangement it is turned into a bass and drum vamp. The B section of this 3-part song (not a rarity in the early part of the century) is used here as a release or bridge. When the C section finally arrives, ushered in by the piano, we are in a new key, with a fresh new theme.
Loca Bohemia is one of a number of lush tangos composed by Francisco De Caro. Less famous than his violinist-bandleader brother Julio, Francisco was nevertheless one of the musical brains behind the escuela decareana, which in the 1920’s defined the style of tango orchestration and arranging for future generations. De Caro’s melodic sense is beyond milonga, entering a quasi French sound strongly influenced by American jazz.
The wonderful El Pollo Ricardo is the only well known composition of bandoneonist Luis Alberto Fernandez, an otherwise minor figure. The middle section of this 3 part tune is an octave-jumping riff characteristic of bandoneon playing. Once again the C section serves as a related departure from the main theme.
Bandoneonist Pedro Maffia was a key developer of his instrument’s technique and style. Working in De Caro’s sextet and later with his own groups, he also left a legacy of compositions that are essential to the repertory. Many of them had added lyrics, like Ventarron, which became popular with singers. One can almost hear the words in Jorge Retamoza’s baritone sax interpretation. At the beginning, the bari and the bowed bass duel like two robust payadores (storytellers).
Writing in the early 1950’s, pianist Horacio Salgan modernized the early milonga-based compostion style of Bardi, Greco, and Arolas. The exquisite melody of his well-known tribute piece Don Agustin Bardi is one continuous syncopated discourse over a 3 part form. Variations on simple milonga motifs are cleverly displaced. In this arrangement, Abel Rogantini’s harmonization adds another layer of motion.
Pedro Laurenz, like Maffia, was influential in the creation of the bandoneon performance style, and at the same time an important composer and bandleader. As an arranger, this De Caro alumn created some of the most sophisticated music of the early 1940’s, surviving the uniformity imposed by the dance style. He performed De Puro Guapo as a tango, with lyrics. Here we have taken it to its milonga roots, leaning on the gaucho speech-like quality of the melody. The versatile “Pipi” Piazzolla reveals himself as a solid milonguero, and delivers a stunning solo over a pedal point. Pablo Aslan