Despite the title, this album is not necessarily limited to lovers of tango. Nor should it be dismissed by listeners who normally prefer music emphasizing improvisation. Raúl Jaurena, regarded as one of the best of the bandoneon players, is likely to win more than a few converts to the tango with this richly expressive, expertly produced session.
Joined by a string quintet from his native Uruguay, along with pianist Octavo Brunetti and vocalist Marga Mitchell, Jaurena is listed not only as musical director on the date but also as arranger for all fourteen compositions, eleven of which are his own. Listeners familiar with the dazzling variety and brilliant compression of a Jelly Roll Morton or Raymond Scott three-minute miniature masterpiece are likely to recognize many of the same characteristics in the ensemble cohesion and collaborative interplay on each of the tracks.
Not that it's music of great intricacy or even sophistication. The constant contrasts in tempo, texture and dynamics, while undeniably affecting, are also extreme. But what the music lacks in complexity and urbanity, it makes up for in highly charged drama ortaking seriously the definition of the word as "music with drama"irresistible and compelling melodrama.
The melodic burden is shared by the three primary musical sourcesstring quintet, piano, and bandoneon (Mitchell's contributions on four of the tracks are less vocal "features than a fourth melodic voice). Even when the melody is being relayed from one source to the next, another motive is usually occurring, producing a richly-textured polyphony. As a result, the sections during which a single instrument is featured, unaccompanied by countermelodies or chords, acquire special intensity. Nothing is more spellbinding than the moment on "Guruyense" when Jaurena's naked instrument hands off a sustained melody note to solo violin so seamlessly and imperceptibly that the listener is momentarily uncertain about which instrument is being played.
The ensemble sound, even when full, is varied, ranging from hushed, ethereal interludes to passages played with all-out passionate intensity, occasionally the maelstrom of separate melodic currents yielding to the forceful stream of all instruments sounding in unison as the flood of emotions, especially on "Espera," builds to a feverish pitch. The variety extends to the rubato sections and the double-time pizzicato passages that spell the otherwise relentless tango rhythm. Finally, the incisive punctuations to the rhythmwhether produced by the slappings and scratchings of bows or by Brunetti's left hand (elbow?) on the detuned bass of the pianoare a constant reminder of the essentially physical, sensuous nature of the music.
The recording, which was made in the Thalia Spanish Theater in Queens, New York, is state of the art in terms of audio fidelity, so "present," in fact, that the listener is enveloped within the ensemble. And that's the key to listening to this music, with its three interrelated narratives from the three primary melodic sources: the first is the male dancer, the second the female, and the third is the listener, seduced and summoned to participate in a dance of life that will not, simply can not, be denied.