Two apparently distant worlds, two instruments of different appearance, origin, and character, and yet united by a complex and versatile soul, by a history made up of journeys and encounters, roots and perspectives.
Saxophone and bandoneón, the two solo voices of Amarcord d’un Tango, share this unique dimension, this identity which in fact is a non-identity: both came into existence in Europe in the 1840s, the former destined to fill the gap between woodwind and brass and to show itself to great effect in military bands, the latter conceived as a dynamic substitute for the organ in religious services; both flourished on the other side of the ocean in contexts far removed from those in which they originated, one inextricably linked to jazz, the other to the Argentine tango – a growth spawned in an atmosphere of cultural exchange between continents and worlds far apart.
The distinguishing feature of this new recording (a sequel to and deeper exploration of what Albonetti had already demonstrated in his Romance del Diablo, CHAN 20220) is the double dialogue that established itself between past and present and between sacred and profane. This is the world of Amarcord, of memory that draws from the past but nourishes the present, in a conversation in which the distinction between one and the other proves extremely subtle; similarly ephemeral is the distance between music conceived to pay homage to the divine and music that emanates from the human, even from its most tragic manifestations – as in the case of the heartrending Alfonsina y el mar.
This voyage could only be launched with the name of Astor Piazzolla (1921 – 1992), protagonist-in-chief of Romance del Diablo which contained his most famous compositions, but who is brought onboard here with some rarities of his repertoire. Of Triunfal it is said that it was played by Piazzolla in the presence of Nadia Boulanger, and that the great pianist was impressed by it, discerning within it the outlines of a coherent and most original musical idea; the other two pieces included here, Jardin d’Afrique and Bruno et Sarah, going back to the 1970s, were included in the soundtrack of Le Voyage de Noces, a film by Nadine Trintignant, of 1976. All three demonstrate Piazzolla’s quintessential balance between searing rhythmic intensity and moments of great lyricism – entrusted, in the case of Triunfal, also to the violin of Cesare Carretta, while the piano of Annalisa Mannarini opens the dance at the beginning of the same piece.
Of Carlos Gardel (1890 – 1935), the other great guest on this tour through twentieth-century tango, Marco Albonetti and Daniele di Bonaventura offer two complementary portraits: the bombastic, popular, and sometimes loud one of Por una cabeza and the intimate and meditative one of Sus ojos se cerraron. ‘Por una cabeza’ (literally ‘for a head’) is a typical slang expression among betters in horse racing and indicates a minimal distance (‘by a horse’s head’, thus ‘a short head’, or ‘very little’): this piece, one of the most famous tangos, and also used in the world of cinema, is given in a version that leaves ample room for improvisation by the bandoneón, which is in continuous dialogue with a densely scored orchestra. Sus ojos se cerraron, on the other hand, has the character of a prayer; it is the expression of a tango that knows how to remain authentic while pressing against the limits of its strictly secular dimensions; the text of the piece, the work of Alfredo Le Pera, describes the loss of love in refined language and daring metaphors. In this case, the dialogue between the similar timbres of soprano saxophone and bandoneón seems capable of evoking the ghost of that between the two lovers, which now is relegated to the dimension of memory.
It should in fact not be forgotten that many of the compositions recorded here, enjoying an independent existence in their purely instrumental form, were originally songs, and thus had the honour and the necessity to be intimately tied to a text. However, as the songs lose contact with the words and their meaning, the narrative capability of the music emerges in all its power and its mystery: the art of orchestration consists fundamentally in knowing how to take full advantage of the potential of each instrument to become the protagonist of an event which can only be imagined at the level of timbre and of atmosphere, as in the case just mentioned. Certainly, in the instance of Alfonsina y el Mar by Ariel Ramírez (1921 – 2010), knowing that the song is dedicated to the poet Alfonsina Storni Martignoni (who died throwing herself from a cliff – she was the author of poems in which death and the sea intertwine in an apparently prophetic way) contributes not a little to contextualising the listening experience and conferring on it a precisely determined visual and conceptual element; the piece itself, however, preceded by the Sanctus of Daniele di Bonaventura (born 1966) (the opening of which recalls to mind the introductory melody of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps) and with a string section enriched by the double-bass of Virgilio Monti, is capable of evoking feelings all the stronger and more captivating the more they are liberated from an imposed programme.
The pair of pieces just mentioned strongly exemplifies the effective fusion of liturgical and secular music that is one of the overriding themes of this project: an imperceptible motion from the sacred to the profane, in the shared feeling of a poetic sorrow transformed and returned by means of art. Apart from his Sanctus, di Bonaventura includes a Graduale and a Corale-Tango, all of them musical genres intimately associated with the liturgical realm, which in their turn alternate with traditional as well as contemporary tangos: Amarcord therefore assumes both the organic and the sacred properties of a ceremony, of a particular moment illuminated through the many possible realisations of a poetic and musical idea. Tango is seen, then, not as a form of dance or a codified genre, but as a particular attitude to the unification and coexistence of rhythm and stasis, violence and lyricism, the human and the transcendent.
Hence, the Graduale (so entitled because originally intoned by singers standing on the steps of the ambo, known as ‘gradi’) develops into a style of passacaglia-chaconne, with an expansive introduction by the solo saxophone and a central section in which the exchange between the viola of Michela Zanotti and the cello of Claudio Giacomazzi stands out; while in Corale-Tango the contest between sacred and profane dimensions, such a unique feature of the global profile of this recording, is carried out within the confines of a single track (just as we already experienced in Sanctus and Alfonsina). Never more so than in these moments, furthermore, do the two solo instruments move towards sharing their timbral and expressive pursuits: both being aerophone instruments, their sound produced by the vibration of one or more reeds, saxophone and bandoneón can therefore generate an alchemy of breath and intention, without by any means losing their own individuality and always distinguishing themselves from the rest of the orchestra.
A journey through the history of tango cannot but pay tribute to one of the oldest and most renowned compositions of the genre, El Choclo by Ángel Gregorio Villoldo Arroyo (1861 – 1919), dating back to the first few years of the 1900s: the piece is here offered in a completely new guise, thanks not only to its orchestral introduction (which brings to mind Mozart’s Piano Concerto, KV 488) but above all to an unusual ternary rhythm which at one and the same time renders it closer to dance and to doubt and suspension, far removed from the foursquare, popular character of the original and of many reinterpretations.
Not least notable among the famous collaborations represented by Amarcord d’un Tango is finally the contribution by the great French accordionist Richard Galliano (born in 1950) with a hitherto unpublished version of his celebrated Tango pour Claude – dedicated to the singer-songwriter Claude Nougaro, a long-time collaborator of Galliano’s; the piece, enthralling in its obstinate rhythmic progression, gives pride of place to the intertwining of saxophone and bandoneón, both of which are ensured broad and effective sections of improvisation.
The closure, however, is reserved for what is probably the most complex and unusual work in this recording, Tango’s Gedanke, for sax and string orchestra, by the Italian-Argentine cellist and composer Jorge Bosso (born in 1966), specially written for Amarcord d’un Tango. A ‘thought’ (Gedanke) that serves as an open and suspenseful finale, a mysterious diminuendo that succeeds in restoring, in all its depth, a profound and complex approach to the world of tango, the very kind that has been presented by Marco Albonetti and Daniele di Bonaventura in this Amarcord. In terms perfectly apposite to the music, the words of Bosso himself put a seal on the project:
“The tango becomes an active memory of a still current time. A thin and welcoming memory of an emotional experience, far from any possible and imaginary prosopopoeia. The labyrinths of a languid tango intertwine with the unconscious of those who have walked the streets of a Buenos Aires pervaded by an ever-changing soundtrack. The past welcomes us into the arms of a greedy present waiting for a hospitable gaze: Tango’s Gedanke.”