Monday 29 May 2017

Developments in Live Tango

I've been wishing for a long time that there were actually-good, live tango bands. The ones I heard until recently were always either too classical in style and giving me no reason to dance, or too singer-led, and consequently boring.

But recently there have been developments. One is that there are now quite a lot of tango bands that are trying things and get booked for festivals and performances. This is important because - I think - you need this, before you can get noticeable differences of standard, and you need that before good ones can develop.

At some point in that process, we probably need things like a rather sugary stage version of Invierno from Solo Tango. I think the performance and the playing in that video work very well together artistically as a unit, but the interpretation of the piece itself - especially from 01:00 onwards, where the violin melody starts maundering around the general area of the beat - does not sit well beside the Canaro/Maida recording of 1937 with its perfect union between melody and rhythm.

In Alma de Bohemio, Podestá may hold the note for nine seconds and float down alone like autumn's first leaf, but when he does come down, he and the orchestra land together on the beat, with timing as perfect as this. The beat, even silent, is always the heart of it, and the singer doesn't fight it, because he's good and doesn't need to, and because, at that moment, it's not about him. I say this to explain what I mean by danceable tango.

So, the second development is that there are some live bands now who set out to play for dancers,  and understand what that means, and from time to time I can actually go and dance to their music. Dancing to live music is a special experience.

La Juan D'Arienzo, who visited Liverpool and London last week, are a substantial outfit who delivered what it says on the tin; their four bandoneons, four violins, piano and bass gave us a beat, and plenty of excitement. They felt perfectly danceable to me, even if I wasn't that motivated personally. I wondered if they could have got more emotional scope and heft by using more of their dynamic range, but it's hard to know.

I really bought my ticket to hear the opening act, Los Milonguitas. They are tiny - only a trio - but when I saw their performance of Silueta porteña on YouTube it seemed to me that they were playing it the way they felt it should be played. They weren't just trying to imitate a particular band of the Golden Age; they were experimenting with a variety of styles in imitation of different bands, and, in the milongas at least, sometimes daring to be themselves.

They were entertaining to dance to and would work for a real social dance event. They played tandas in different styles, they played valses and milongas in the usual proportion and place, and they rather charmingly played their own cortinas (Beatles, obvs) - none of which the larger band attempted. I really enjoyed dancing to their music, especially what they did with the bass, perhaps inspired by the lack of a violin.

There are other bands I'd be happy to try dancing to. Los Herederos del Compás also bill themselves "al estilo Juan D'Arienzo", which is a good place to start. At least they're not trying to be Pugliese. I love Pugliese, but I don't think it's such a good place to start.

Orquesta Romantica Milonguera, with three violins, three bandoneons, piano, bass and male and female voices, also seem to be pretty much being themselves, and danceable, although they do often sound a lot like Fulvio Salamanca (nothing wrong with that). I like the singing in this.

So, the next step, which seems to be maybe happening, would be for bands to have the ambition and confidence to be consistently and openly themselves, however humble.

The one after that (and I suppose tightly connected by the process of developing arrangements) would be, not only to play, tour, and record for dancers, but also to compose, arrange, and perform new tangos for dancing. That's when it gets real.

That would sound something like this:

That's Orquesta Típica Misteriosa Buenos Aires, with a new instrumental tango called "7 de enero", composed by their director, Javier Arias. And I think it's great. I love it. I totally want to dance to it right now; I think it's got something to say. I want to make a tanda with it. It starts well, it's got a delicious melody, it's got fun stuff without getting complicated, and it carries a slow, suspenseful energy right through to a satisfying conclusion.

Let's go!

Unfortunately, I find the rest of the album on YouTube disappointing. The singer is not a success; she doesn't stay with the beat, she's much too dominant, and the result is dull. There's another original composition; I would love someone to arrange and record the rather good milonga that's hiding inside it. The opening of 7 de enero also sounds much weaker than in the video, so the Youtube sound quality may have some problems; I'd be interested to hear the instrumentals on CD.

Their other two albums are not obviously better, but they're also earlier. On the other hand - this outfit have been around since 2008, and it's now 2017. If they haven't really delivered yet, will they ever?  I'd be so pleased if they did - if they delivered even one tanda of sharp, sensual, danceable tangos as good as the video above, where the violins are allowed to sing. What will it take to deliver that? Competition? Criticism? Ambition? Encouragement? A Patreon setup? They only posted that video two weeks ago. Could they continue in the same direction?

Will there ever be a Postmodern Jukebox for tango? (Other than the actual Postmodern Jukebox, who are all over cortinas everywhere).

Either way, I'd like to thank my DJ friends Karin Betz and Trud Antzee for drawing that video to my attention.