Ethereal passion, warm humor, and nostalgia lit up the lavish Renaissance-inspired Great Hall of the Breakers in a memorable evening of Tango Distinto with Achilles Liarmakopoulos, Hector Del Curto, Pedro Giraudo, and Emilio Teubal for the Newport Music Festival on Friday.
In the brothels from which tango emerged, men of the working class jumped at the opportunity to dance when the music came on, as if it were a survival instinct. As it turned out, live music was the only opportunity for them to hone their dance skills, which were vital for attracting a woman outside of the brothel. The quartet succeeded at compelling us, while also not turning the breakers into a house of ill repute. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s hackles might not have been raised.
My inkling that their cool-headed stage presence suggested a classy Jazz pedigree was confirmed by their bios. The quartet’s suave bass-playing bandleader, Pedro Giraudo, has been gracing the New York Jazz scene for over 20 years, weaving together his love for Jazz and Tango. This was on full display on Friday, as several of his exciting compositions were performed, displaying a wide gamut of techniques including Golpe de Caja, and fingerboard-slapping pizzicati. The more atypical but welcome sound was that of the trombone, played by Achilles Liarmakopoulos of the legendary Canadian Brass ensemble. He added a distinct soulfulness and breadth to the group’s sound and countered the percussive nature of piano and plucked bass. Even some Mahlerian tendencies crept in during Giraudo’s composition La Rabiosa (The Rabid One). Accompanied by Spanish and folkloric polyrhythms, these could make the most avid Shakira fan forget the pop star’s urban tune of the same name. Liarmakopoulos could even be heard using “latigo” and “sirena” techniques, which are types of fast and slow glissandi typically reserved for string instruments in tango music. Pianist Emilio Teubal traces his roots to Argentina and Spain, and has a history of playing chamber music in novel instrumentations. While at times the lines were oversimplified and he seemed disconnected from the group, there were undeniably brilliant moments. His introduction to Astor Piazzolla’s masterpiece Adios Nonino delivered virtuosity, tonal creativity, and rhythmic vitality. Additionally, his chords possessed a fullness reminiscent of Erroll Garner. Possibly the most interesting and beautiful segment of the evening came from the solo bandoneon in Che Bandoneon by Hector del Curto. As his colleagues left the stage, Curto explained the history of the bandoneon as a rather illogical instrument originating in Germany, and the brave spirit of the Argentines in adopting and mastering it. Until that point, his presence was understated and maybe not prominent enough, so it was especially moving watching him solo. The amiable and three-dimensional acoustics of the Breakers threw the treble in one direction and the bass in the other, only to have them collide where you are sitting. I held my breath when the music paused for him to contract the bellows with a seductive immediacy. Curto is a musician of great temperament. The group’s gorgeously rendered its encore, Solitude by Piazzolla, all musicians finding intimate lines throughout. From Classic Tango, to Nuevo Tango, to original compositions, this quartet’s thoughtfully arched programming left us all with a better understanding of the history and an inescapable love for the art of Tango.
Tango’s distinct flavor embraces ardor, fervor, irony and even near hysteria. Juan d’Arienzo [here] and Daniel Rowland [here] are two such Tango masters who have continually popped up on my playlists as of late. This dynamic also suggests great dancers, like Pablo Veron [here]. Their legs move so swiftly, accurately and in such proximity that one can only imagine the amount intense practice required. It even seems more like a duel than a partnership. Their movements are almost brutal, but imply such vulnerability — as if sublimating a turbulent relationship in their art. Tango is, after-all, the dance of the wounded, the wary and the suspicious. The quartet employed some harder rhythmic techniques and staccatos, but their aesthetic was more towards lyricism and subtlety, and it serves them well. I would have loved it if they brought a violinist if only for wonderful chicharra and tambor techniques. In any case, all lovers of tango are encouraged to follow their schedule, and expect to see some genre hopping, and various novel instrumentations, arrangements and compositions.
Daniel Kurganov is a violinist and educator based in Boston. In addition to regularly performing worldwide, he is devoted to furthering the understanding of style, technique, and exemplification in musical practice, as well as expanding the tools of a musician through technology and cross-cultural reciprocity.