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July 24, 2007

A musical travelogue from Buenos Aries

In early July, 2007 I went to Buenos Aries to study at the Academía Nacionál del Tango for an intensive 2 week seminar for foreign musicians. I studied tango music 8 hours a day and learned more than I ever could in the States. I already posted a little bit about my trip (and a lot of pictures) on the band blog.
I basically heard live tango music every night I was in Buenos Aires. By contrast, I've only heard 3 different Tango bands in the States and only one of them even had an Argentine. I thought it might be fun to produce a slightly different kind of travelogue here: a day-by-day playlist of the performers I heard. All of these tracks are either from CDs I bought from the performers or from the performer's own websites.

Full Story plus music after the jump!

(Click here for a player in a pop-up window)
  • Sunday, July 1, 2007. I arrived in BA in the morning and went to the house of my friend (and former Mandragora percussionist) Mark Herr. He gave me a brief walking tour of his barrio and dropped me off at the famous Ferria de San Telmo, which is a large street fair / antiques market that has lots of live music, including some Orquesta Tipicas who roll pianos out into the streets to ply their craft. It was at the corner of Independencia and Denfensa where I saw my first live Orquesta Tipica: Ciudád Baigon. (Track 1)
  • Monday, July 2, 2007 We had our first class on Monday where I met my bandoneon professor, Maestro Osvaldo Montes. He showed us some of his solo pieces, including "Ninine" (Track 2). We also had our first Tango history class taught by Maestro Aníbal Arías, who played examples on guitar (Track 3). The tow of them are longtime friends and collaborators. On our last night in BA, they played a concert of some of their duets (Tracks 4 & 5). That night, I got some people together to go to a famous Parrilla (Steakhouse) called Chiquilín, which was the namesake of one of my favourite Piazzolla/Ferrer songs: Chiquilín de Bachín (Track 6) (My 5-year-old daughter calls this "The Ballerina Song" and dances around the living room as I play it.)
  • Tuesday, July 3 After class, some of us went to a Milonga at Parakultural that featured a live performance by La Excelsior (Track 7) Parakultral hosts a lot of Milongas and has a reputation for having some of the better dancers. I was too scared to dance myself, so I held back and just listened. The band was pretty good, but mostly focused on reproducing older tango styles.
  • Wednesday, July 4 The class made a field trip to see Nestor Marconi direct and play his own arrangments with the "Orquesta Nacional de Música Argentina Juan de Dios Filiberto". This was a hybrid of a chamber orchestra and an orqesta tipica: it had a full string section, single winds and percussion as well as 4 bandos. I could not find any recordings of this group, so I'm including a cut of Nestor Marconi's Octet (Track 8). The night before, Marconi performed Piazzolla's Bandoneon Concerto with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic (I missed that concert). In honor of Piazzolla's death day (July 4, 1992), I'm including a recording of this masterpiece. (Track 9)
    After an early supper (8PM!) in barrio Constitucion, some of us took a cab out to barrio Balvanera to CAFF, or "Club Atletico Fernandez Fierro", the performance space of the avant garde "Orquesta Típica Fernandez Fierro" (Tracks 10-12) It was a life-changing experience. Fernandez Fierro is a group of young, hip 20-something performers who just happen to have a kick-ass orquesta tipica. I've heard them described as the "crazy grandsons of Pugliese" and also heard that one or two of them actually are grandsons of old-skool musicians. I would describe their style as Pugliese's "La Yumba" meets Metalica's "Master of Puppets". They have the hard "dos pro quatro" edge of late Pugliese with the drive and riffing energy of heavy metal.
  • Thursday, July 5 Astillero (Tracks 13-15) The genius behind Fernandez Fierro is pianist Julian Peralta, who has wrote all the arrangments and many of their originals. He quit FF a while ago and founded "Astillero" ("Shipyard"). Much like FF, Astillero has their own loft space where they hold weekly milongas above a tire shop. A bunch of us went there after class and took in an amazing evening of modern tango. When we got there, about a dozen people were having a tango lesson and a live soccer game was silently projected on the wall behind them. We got some beers and hot dogs and watched both. They DJ'd vintage tango until the end of the game and I got up the courage to dance with some porteñas (women from BsAs). The first of the 3 bands we heard took the floor: a string orchestra of young adults who study at a community music school right there in San Telmo. Next was a candombe trio from Uruguay. Finally we heard a new sextet called "Agua Pesada" that was essentially the same people as "Unitango" who we were to see the following evening. They played some great, contemporary tango with lots of drive and emotion. I was told that this was their second or third live gig and that they played all 4 songs that they knew. I can't wait to hear their first CD. Unfortunately, we never got to hear Astillero, since the cellist was in some sort of minor traffic accident and couldn't make it. My friends returned the following Thursday and said that their performance was electrifying. I bought their CD and have been listening to it pretty obsessively since I got back to the states. This is one of my major Buenos Aires regrets: I never actually saw Astillero. (My other regrets are not actually seeing the River Platte and not dancing enough)
  • Friday, July 6 Unitango (Tracks 16-17) is a collective of tango teachers, dancers and musicians that puts on a milonga each week at Confiteria Ideal. This was actually an organized field trip with the entire class from the academy. There were some women in the group who's dance level was compatible with mine, so I got some serious dancing in. The Unitango band played note-for-note sextet arrangments of classic arrangements. I guess this is so dancers who know the classic recordings can dance along to a live band. They certainly played them well. My favorite part was when they played the Pugliese arrangment of "Desde el Alma" and screwed up the rhythm at exactly the same place where Mandragora botches it!
  • Saturday, July 7 Julian Graciano (Track 18) Eduardo Rovira (Track 19) On Saturday morning, went to the Recoleta apartment of Maestro Julian Graciano to take an arranging lesson. Julian taught the music theory classes at the academy and I was very impressed with his musicality. He is also kinda famous to tango musicians because he compiled a "Real Book of Tango", which is a set of 300 or so tangos written as a melody line and chords that allow pick-up bands to play tango like jazz players ("the Real Book" is an infamous collection of hand-written jazz scores that all beginning jazz players have to master). Julian studied Jazz guitar at the Berklee School of Music and has a great love for both jazz and tango. He also enlightened me on many of the mysteries of arranging tango music. He and I share a love for obscure tango composer Eduardo Rovira. Rovira is almost like a minor Piazzolla figure. He played with Trolio and has impeccable tango chops, but wrote a lot of avant-garde tango, including 12-tone tango and electric bandoneon. Rovira also worshiped J. S. Bach and wrote a few tangos as if Bach had lived on the Rio Platte. These tunes remind me a lot of Villa-Lobos "Bachianas Brazileras", which can be seen as Brazilian folk music interpreted by Bach. I'm including "Majó Majú" ("Maria Jose / Maria Juanita"), named after two of his neighbors. I've included a demo track from Julian's website. Gracias, Maestro Graciano!
  • Sunday & Monday, July 8-9 Túcuman Mercedes Sosa (Track 20) On Saturday afternoon, I got on a bus and went to the northwestern city of Túcuman to visit my friend max Valentinuzzi, who is a professor of biomedical engineering at the university up there. It was a 16 hour bus ride, but I took the "executive sleeper" class which had lay-flat seats and lots of room. Max had an Asado (bar-b-que) waiting and we played a lot of music together (he's the pianist on our CD). I spent about 30 hours in Tucuaman and took another bus back to BsAs. When I woke up on the outskirts of town, I saw a light dusting of snow on the ground. I didn't think it was a big deal, since I'm from the frozen north, but it turns out that that was the first snow in Buenos Aries in 90 years. It pretty much all melted by noon. I didn't really hear any live music in Túcuman, but I'm including a recoring of Túcuman's most famous daughter, Mercedes Sosa.
  • Monday, July 10 Orquesta Típica Candombe (Track 21) I went to the Theater Avelar about an hour before the show to pick up 2 "free" concert tickets, only to find out that they were sold out. As I moved toward the SRO line, an elegant Porteña asked "do you need a ticket?", but I internally mistranslated it as "does one need a ticket". She kept on asking me in faster and faster Spanish and I kept pointing othe the box office and telling her the show was sold out. Finally, she handed me 2 tickets and laughed. I felt stoopid, but I got into the show. It sounded like 1940s cuban music. They added 4 congas to a standard Orquesta Tipica. The impressive thing is that Fernandez Suarez Paz (Pizzolla's final violinist) was the secttion leader. He was introduced as "Maestissimo" ("Ultimate Maestro"). The show was a tribute to Sebastian Piana. I don't have any recordings of that group, but I'm including my favorite piece by Pianna, Milonga Triste played by Ubaldo DeLio (Guitarist for Piazzolla and Salgan) and Ciracao Ortiz, the man who invented the "octave chirp" on the Bandoneon.
  • Tuesday, July 11 Orquesta Típica Fervor de Buenos Aires, named after the book by Borges. This was one of the coldest days of the year in BA, so they rationed natural gas. The problem is that all the cabs run on natural gas and you couln't find one. We made our way to an old movie palace in San Telmo called "Teatro Verdi". A one-eyed drunk showed us to our seats and became our new best friend. He even showed me his official disability card which stated clearly that he had a glass eye. (Most people would have figured that out on their own) He was friends with the band and called out drunked requests for Piazzolla. The bar manager realized that we were a table of gringos and managed to shoosh him away. The show was pretty good. The band is lead by their pianist, Javier Arias. I never found out if he was related to Anibal Arias. At any rate, the bank kicked ass on traditional late troilo/mid pugliese style tunes. They didn't rock as hard as Fernandez Fierro, but I don't htey they wanted to. It was much more traditional and elegant. (Tracks 22-23)
  • Wednesday, July 12 Orquesta de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (Tracks 24-26) I've heard many recordings of this orquesta, but never heard them live until now. It's a very unique group. It's probably the biggest tango orchestra of all time: a full string section (20+ players), 5 bandos, piano, electric and acustic guitar, electric bass, 2 pecussionists, some winds, etc... The amazing this was that the players on stage are like a "who's who" of living tango musicians. It seems to be some sort of cultural heritage gig where the city of BA pays these living legends a living wage to play a few free gigs a month. The musicians get steady work and the city gets a cultural treasure. More importantly, it keeps them playing tango full time.
  • Thursday, July 13 Sergio Crotti & Mariana Colombo(Tracks 27) I took Mark and his fiancee out to eat at a restaurant called Bodega Campo where a friend of a friend was playing. Sergio Crotti is a guitarist who met my bandmate, Mateo, a few years ago. Mateo introduced us by email and I went to see him accompany Mariana Colombo, who co-owns the restaurant. I met them after a day of classes, so I had my bandoneon with me. Sergio asked me to play a few tunes on stage with him, so I made my BA debut that night!
  • Friday, July 14 For my last night in Buenos Aires, we had a blowout. The conservatory had a little "graduation" for the students where we got certificates and handshakes. We also had a little concert from maestros Anibal Arias and Osvaldo Montes. We said sad farewells to our instructors and left for a night on the town. Our first stop was Café Homero, a tango bar in Recoleta. We were there to see Maria Jose Mentana(Track 29), who was the voice instructor at the conservatory. We got there a bit early and caught the tail end of a touristy tango show that had a very elderly gentleman playing bando along with young kids on electric piano and electric bass. It reminded me of the "ghost bands" that play at the Indian casinos in the states. At any rate, the guy totally outclassed his band and the dancers on the tiny stage. Then I found out that he was Ernesto Baffa (Track 28), a performer who I've always respected. I also though he was dead, but it turns out I was wrong. Anyway, Maria Jose Mentana(Track 29) put on a great show that reminded me (in a fleeting way) of a lounge singer, except that she was not cheesy and she had the entire audience in the palm of her hand. She performed with a guitarist and had a few special guests (including a student from our program) join her for a few tunes. After her show, we sought out Vale Tango(Tracks 30-32), who were playing at a milonga known as La Viruta We got there at 2 AM and the place was packed. You could hardly move, let alone dance. We caught the last few songs of Vale Tango and I wished I heard more. They were really tight and played in a danceable way that seemed a bit different from their CDs. I was quite interested in how they would play differently for dancers, since my band usually plays for dances rather than concerts. After several liter bottles of beer, we got in cabs to head home. -BB
  • Posted by bbarnes at July 24, 2007 6:08 PM