Sunday, 18 March 2018

La Maleva

I wondered again recently if I could listen through, chronologically, to all the Troilo recordings I have. On the surface that’s far from impossible but I failed of course. After a while, fewer tracks really stand out, but it’s still an ambition to get a sense of the span of an extraordinary career from start to finish.

The start is easy enough. Comme il faut/Tinta Verde of 1938 was Troilo’s first 78 with his own newly-formed orquesta. He was 24. It seems a stupendously confident start. Right from the first note it sounds like Troilo. In fact, the very first chord of Comme il Faut seems discordant. Compare it with the performance of composer/performer, Eduardo Arolas who quickly plays two notes, a sprightly flourish leading to the first note of his composition. Troilo seems to jam all three notes together, as if relishing the striking and slightly discordant chord. Within the first 30 seconds there’s no mistaking the driving, tightly rehearsed and disciplined rhythm playing that allows the soloist (piano) to improvise freely, and of course invites the dancers to step out. Right from the very start it doesn’t sound in the least like any other tango orquesta. This is Troilo from the very beginning.

One track that really caught my ear and demanded a repeat listening was La Maleva, from 1942. The energetically incisive rhythm, the expressive softness that Troilo was getting from his five violins, and above all the intense tenderness and sorrow of this track is remarkable. In the first 10 seconds the strings fade practically to nothing, offering a clear platform to the piano. The expressive playing of the strings brings out the tenderness of the phrases. Whereas I think most orquestas until then played loud with little control of volume, Troilo used volume to create emotion and sequence and drama. Nowhere more so than in the final minute of La Maleva. The strings play over a bandoneon rhythm that fades in and out – which I guess was played in-orquesta, not engineered on a mixing desk. All leading to Troilo himself, soloing over or even duetting with a very subdued piano, Troilo, who seems to have found, as Miles Davis, another musical hero, discovered a few years later, that playing quietly can be more emphatic than playing loudly.

& why did this particular song seem so familiar? Suddenly I remembered a dance clip I had watched over and over 10 year ago when it first appeared in Rick McGarry’s great Tango and Chaos blog. Very sadly the blog has gone, hopefully not permanently. But could some of the clips have survived on YouTube?

Lo and behold, miraculously, I found La Maleva,the very clip I’d watched (and listened to) with such fascination a decade ago. What a relief it’s still available! Filmed, I think, in Lo de Celia, two dancers wind themselves endlessly, fluently around each other, rising and falling to the energy and cadence of the music.

I watched it again and again when it first appeared, but my experience of the dance then was very limited, and it seemed almost miraculous. Now I notice first how much dance there is in it. It’s Troilo at his most tender, almost sorrowful, and I’d be inclined to dance more slowly, even if I could lead all those twists and turns (beyond me, in any case.) But despite the constant movement of the dance there’s absolutely no rush, they are both completely at ease. It doesn’t look forced or showy in any way. After all, if there are so many beautiful notes why not mark them, if you can! & then I notice the flexibility of her knees, and realise that he’s leading this. You don’t notice his knees, but the couple’s embrace is too close for her to do this independently. He’s lifting and lowering her, so in effect he’s leading in two plains, horizontally and vertically, which makes sense as you listen to and express the music, the rise and fall of the melodic phrases set against the onward pulse of the rhythm. I notice the precision of lead and follow, his clear ‘steering’ with his feet, and the energy and lightness of her stepping.

Two wonderful dancers, and just how lucky we are to be able to witness it! It’s not the only way to dance to La Maleva but I’m glad to say it’s no less of a miracle to me today.

(Who was La Maleva? A type rather than a person, the bad/loose woman who becomes a milonguera and a ‘kept woman’, but repents and goes back home, to her mother’s joy. It was a tango written in 1922, and subsequently a silent Argentine film released the following year. Troilo’s version, like other versions, dispenses with the lyrics, which can be found on Paul Bottomer’s site along with a translation, and where you can also listen to versions by other orquestas.)

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