The late Astor Piazolla was undeniably responsible for bringing visibility to the bandoneon and widespread acclaim to the tango form. Over the course of the past quarter century, however, it's been Piazolla's fellow countryman Dino Saluzzi who has directed the instrument towards paths unseen. Over the course of nine ECM releases Saluzzi has explored the instrument's potential as an expansive improvisational instrument in variety of orthodox and unorthodox instrumental groupings.
While not based in improvisation, one of Saluzzi's most adventurous recordings is Kultrum (ECM, 1998), featuring a book of compositions for bandoneon and string quartet. Cellist Anja Lechner, who has proven uniquely capable of inhabiting all points across the compositional and improvisational continuum that is ECM, was a member of Kultrum's string quartet and joins Saluzzi for the more intimate Ojos Negors. While not improvisation in the way that Saluzzi's record with percussionist Jon Christensen, Senderos (ECM, 2005), was, the exploration of phrasal nuance, harmony, dynamics and rhythmic inflection make Ojos Neros no less compelling.
Saluzzi and Lechner have been performing duo concerts for a number of years, so by the time of this April, 2006 session their chemistry was already well-established, making the most of the duet's inherent conversational nature. Classical music is largely about interpretation while jazz focuses more on augmenting whatever form might (or might not) be there. Ojos Negros works the middle ground. There are no purely spontaneous flights of fancy, but equally there's more immediate and spontaneous interaction than found in most classical form.
Mining the rubato is a significant aspect of this duo's strength. To play with the temporal and dynamic elasticity that Saluzzi and Lechner accomplish so effortlessly, one has to forego conscious thought and, instead, work on the most subliminal of levels. Here bandoneon and cello function as two parts of a single whole, ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning in uncanny unison.
The formal nature of the musicall but the title track written by Saluzzicoupled with its recital-like ambience is all the more special for the unequivocal feeling that to hear this music one night to the nextone take to the nextwould be a distinctly different experience. And while tango is part of Saluzzi's make-up, so too is the classicism that, for Lechner, was her folk music.
Ojos Negros is that rarest of albums: one where the emotions run so deep and the sense of communion so strong that even though it is based on formal structure it sounds fresh with each and every listen.
Personnel: Dino Saluzzi: bandoneon; Anja Lechner: cello.