Monday, 6 July 2009

Tanguarda

The Tanguarda performance at Carablanca ten days ago left me slightly confused. The concert, mainly of Piazzolla, was pretty good, apart from over-amplification: at their loudest the violin seemed to screech, and the double bass came over as a booming thud. But I found I got little from their sets for dance. Dancing to live music is usually magical: I remember being very moved by Joaquín Amenábar's solo bandoneon at Carablanca some months back, moved emotionally but even more in the sense that the sound he made led me to move. 'Golden age' recordings do that. But Tanguarda...

Listening to Orquesta Escuela Tango on the train this evening, I started thinking about this. (It's been renamed Orquesta Escuela Emilio Balcarce in honour of the violinist, bandoneonista and arranger who grew up in the golden age and worked for some 20 years with Pugliese. A fuller story is on the video Si Sos Brujo.) There's a wonderful elasticity of rhythm in their playing, which is a characteristic of the golden age recordings. A phrase can be very slightly slowed as an introduction, as a springboard to another voice, another instrument entering, making up for lost time. I think this is a legacy of musicians learning to play by playing together, by listening to each other. The musicians in the Orquesta are all young and learned to play in school, but maestros like Emilio Balcarce have schooled them in playing by ear, rather than by the literal printed note. It was this quality that struck me in the first tango lesson I ever went to: the music was alive, it seemed to draw me forwards, hold me back. I think of this instinctive and quite precise use of shifting tempo as the idiom of tango.

I felt this was missing in Tanguarda. They are highly trained European musicians and they make all the right noises, but their music is flat alongside the Orquesta, or Color Tango, or even Astilleros (definitely not golden age), as if it shouts at you rather than gently leading you. They are a quartet, so perhaps a good comparison would be with D'Agostino, who often recorded as a quintet. There's a kind of easy clarity about his music, a few quiet chords on the piano effortlessly supports a bandoneon line, which itself leads into a violin line that seems to arise as a part of it. There's a total harmony, five musicians all part of the same music, and dancers still want to move to it all night long.

I think Tanguarda are more at home in concert tango, and in Piazzolla in particular, music written to be listened to rather than danced to. I don't think they play as a dance band, possibly they don't even have much feeling for dance tango.

12 comments:

Game Cat said...

I love D'Agostino.

Although smaller in number, his orquesta I feel plays almost like an ensemble. In some songs, each instrument seems to step forward in turn to lead the line, supported effortlessly by his fellows. The phrases may be repetitive, but the texture and colour of each one is as distinct as the instrument leading it.

There's also a subtle mix of smooth and ritmico in some songs, which makes for a nice varied tanda.

I don't understand why milongas in London don't play D'Agostino more often (or Troilo). It's always D'Arienza, Di Sarli or Cannaro.

Adios Arrabal and Tres Equinas are personal favourites (with Angel Vargas doing vocals). Does anybody have favourites to share?

Anonymous said...

snap - i love Adios Arrabal and Tres Esquinas and wonder why they aren't played in London more often, if at all....

on the other hand i really dislike the relentless 2x4 "techno" tango that gets played too much - there's hardly any variation in it that makes you hold back, jump forward ...

jantango said...

I've heard milongueros in Buenos Aires say that a milonga needs two tandas of Troilo and two of Di Sarli to be a milonga.

And speaking of Troilo, this Saturday his birthdate is commemorated as Dia del Bandoneon with a concert at La Trastienda with Federico Leopoldo (debuted at 17), Juan Jose Mosalini, Julio Pane, and Walter Rios.

Tango commuter said...

Happy birthday Anibal! It would be great if some of the live tango from Buenos Aires could be available here.

Unfair of me to put Tanguardia alongside D'Agostino... but interesting. I was really marveling that D'Agostino, like other composer/arranger/musicians of the time made dance music that is modest in scale, but amazingly perfect, rich in texture, supple in tempo and volume, with a minimal group, and the musicians so aware of each others' musicianship. It still speaks to us and is wonderful to dance to.

Yes, Adios Arrabal and Tres Equinas. Then Manoblanco too. I've got 4 CDs, 80 tracks, so I picked one out to check out my favourite tracks. The first four tracks, Cafe Dominguez, Caricias, Cuando se ha qeurido mucho and Cantando olvidare, are all favourites, even if I couldn't recall the titles off-hand. And so it goes on. But D'Agostino tandas aren't so uncommon in London: I've heard both Adios Arrabal and Tres Equinas at least once recently.

Tango music often seems to slip between categories of high art, entertainment, pleasure. In the three-minute segments of a 78rpm recording we can fall in love, have our hearts broken, and be raised from the dead too, almost. Daniel Barenboim, who grew up in Buenos Aires, made a film called Tangos with Friends, with friends Rodolfo Mederas and Placido Domingo, among others. Placido Domingo sings a tango, then asks: why go and spend an evening at the opera? Just listen to a tango. You've got it all there in three minutes. (As if he regrets his choice of career!)

Anonymous said...

then there are other less commonly played pieces from the more popular directors which are really nice to dance to .. such as "Nada" (di sarli) and "manana zarpa un barco".

lovely pieces but not played enough.

you can propably find clips on youtube.

londontango said...

I wasn't at Carablanca to hear Tanguarda, but I have heard them before at the Fire and Flame ball and they played danceable music and the sound was great. The pianist is an accomplished concert pianist. I understand that there was a concert set at Carablanca as well as milonga sets. I am sorry to hear that it wasn't that great for you as I have found them to be quite good, and yes a little loud as in a concert sometimes as that is what they are used to, concert performances. I think that is their passion. I must say though that I prefer to sit and listen to them play rather than dance to them, probably for that reason.

msHedgehog said...

I've got a CD somewhere of Domingo singing tangos. I remember thinking it didn't quite work, but I'll have to put it on again and see if can tell why. I think it was partly because his accent sounds all wrong, but probably the technique is also quite wrong for the genre. I've heard, but don't own, some very wierd concoctions of him singing duets with pop singers. No matter how far he pulls it back, it always sounds like he's the motorbike and they're the sidecar.

I'm sure at least the pianist dances.

Lots of tangos remind me of 19th century opera, various composers. For example Mi Serenata has always reminded me strongly of Au fond du temple saint [my recording is this one, but I've just found the 1907 one on YouTube and I love it]. But I don't have the musical knowledge to tell you why. And although that's part of a full-scale opera, it's a seperable part about the length of a long tango, which is true of lots of things in operas of that kind. My Mum remembers her cousins singing this duet as their party piece when she was a little girl.

Tango commuter said...

@ Londontango, no question that Tanguarda play danceable tango. I just don't remember dancing to them like I remember dancing to Joaquin Amenabar, or D'Agostino, and I'm wondering why. I wonder if a background as an accomplished concert pianist really helps someone to play in a dance band, and I think probably not: they probably don't regard themselves as a dance band. D'Agostino wasn't an accomplished concert pianist, and I suspect tangueros will still be dancing to him after Tanguarda have faded away. & I'm trying to work out just why his music is so good, and also so good for dancing to, and I'm wondering about the way his musicians (and tango musicians generally) seem to listen to each other and help each other along. I think that everything in tango is an arrangement, but it's the way performers read the arrangement when they come to play it together. They don't just play the written notes.

MsH, great image of Domingo as the motorbike and the others as the sidecar, and it's lovely to think of families growing up singing duets from operas. I certainly don't think of Domingo as a tango singer: once again, the classical training and the celebrity status seem quite contrary. I was just amazed that he should say (almost) that a tango is as good as an opera, and a lot shorter: it has the story, it has the emotional impact. (Incidentally, in the film he also plays a tango on piano, which remains with me as more tango-like than his singing.) The huge Italian immigration into Argentina from 1870 onwards brought that culture with it. Julio de Caro's father had been a music director at La Scala Milan, and El Colon was, perhaps still is, the biggest opera house in Latin America. It's part of the culture.

Tango en el Cielo said...

I love d' Agostino too.
When I DJ I more often than not will play a tanda of d'Agostino/Vargas. Last time at Carablanca I played a vals tanda - Esquinas Porteñas, Tristeza Criolla and Yo Tengo Una Novia. Other times I may play a tango tanda - for example of one of my favourites is: Cafe Dominguez, Tres Esquinas, El Aristócrata, Ahora no me conoces. Or other times it may be a milonga tanda, eg El Portenito, En Lo de Laura, Compadreano, Entre copa y copa, etc.
Danny Evans is also very fond of d'Agostino/Vargas and usually plays some when he is DJ (which admittedly isn't so often these days as he is teaching beginners). I do hear d'Agostino played at other milongas too, but, as you say, nothing like enough.

Re Tanguarda, like several other commentators, I also enjoyed listening to their concert set more than I enjoyed dancing to their dance set the other evening at Carablanca. (The second one that is, I missed the first as I went to the Cafe de los Maestros).

msHedgehog said...

Domingo duetting with Julio Iglesias is Just Wrong, take it from me.

Tango commuter said...

I believe you!

Tango commuter said...

The first 17 secs. of that version of Mi Serenata seems like a perfect example of how tango musicians could give way to each other and fit their musical lines together... Could listen to that intro over and over.