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Dino Saluzzi: Responsorium (2003)

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Dino Saluzzi: Responsorium No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

For all of its relative obscurity, the bandoneon occupies a very important place in musical history. To novice ears, the instrument sounds something like an accordion, though it is markedly softer and warmer, with more timbral color. In physical appearance it resembles the concertina—a slinky bellow instrument with 70 buttons.

But when it comes to the music of Argentina, few instruments have had as much impact. The bandoneon (having arrived from Germany in the mid-nineteenth century) permanently altered the pace and tone of tango, slowing it down and endowing with greater emotional density. Dino Saluzzi, one of the great living masters of the bandoneon, will never abandon his role as tanguero, no matter what guise he may adopt. Responsorium is his sixth record as a leader for ECM, and it brings him into warm, spacious territory. Rounding out the trio on this date are Swedish bassist Palle Danielsson and Dino's son José Maria on guitar.

It's obvious from the start that Responsorium will not fit into any simple bin. Saluzzi brings a strong element of chamber music composure together with the quiet sophistication of modern jazz, all the while holding dearly onto his folk music roots. The presence of Danielsson on this recording bodes extremely well for its range and articulation, since he's always incorporated these features into his music. Saluzzi (who composed these pieces) provides ample space for interactive improvisation, harmonically sophisticated if a bit predictable in its rhythm. (Bear in mind that the foundations of this music are deeply rooted in a dance tradition.)

After a gentle syncopated passage where the trio explores the theme, "Cuchara" opens up to uninhibited group interplay—the musicians finish each other's lines and continually twist strands about. It's the finest example of how well Saluzzi has managed to integrate the traditions of tango, jazz, and chamber music. Other pieces have more of a stately Old World feel (despite the leader's New World origins). "La Pequeña historia de...!" is relatively upbeat, with the guitarist and bassist pulsing and surging in a way that's oddly reminiscent of Ralph Towner's music. (José Saluzzi seems to have paid close attention to Towner.) Most of these pieces tend toward the same quiet intensity.

The threads that make up the musical fabric on Responsorium are deeply intertwined, and it's dangerous to over-intellectualize this music. Its unforced natural feel invites the listener in to relax and participate in the gentle ripples of passion. (For a few minutes at least, leave your brain behind!)

Track Listing: A mi hermano Celso; Monica; Responso por la muerte de Cruz; Dele..., Don!!!; Reprise: Los hijos de Fierro; La pequea historia de...!; Cuchara; Vienen del sur los recuerdos; Pampeana "Mapu".

Personnel: Dino Saluzzi: bandoneon; Palle Danielsson: bass; Jos Maria Saluzzi: guitar.

Record Label: ECM Records

Style: Fringes of Jazz


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