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February 23, 1999

Modern ComposersKultrum: Music for Bandoneon and String Quartet. Dino Saluzzi, bandoneon, with the Rosamunde Quartet. (ECM New Series, CD # 78118-21638-2) 1998.

The bandoneon, as many American listeners now know, is a square-box button accordion "that spans 88 notes, two continents, and the bottom of society." Invented in Germany in 1846, it was brought to Argentina by German emigrants and subsequently became closely identified with Argentine tango. Argentinean Dino Saluzzi (b. 1935) is arguably the foremost composer and performer of the bandoneon, after the death of Astor Piazzolla. Saluzzi's music goes beyond the traditional canon of the Argentine tango, though it does not negate or deny that tradition. Besides being a serious student of Argentine folk music, Saluzzi is also a veteran of a number of avant-garde jazz groups with musicians such as Gerry Mulligan and Gato Barbieri. His playing on this new album from ECM New Series represents a synthesis of many strains of European and Latin American music, filtered through his unique approach to his chosen instrument and to his inherited cultural traditions.

Tango, as both a dance and a musical form, has been known for half a century or more, but the emergence of "nuevo tango" and performers such as Piazzola have brought it from the far periphery to near center stage of the musical scene, with a number of albums released in this country in the last four years. The present album is not quite tango, but is firmly rooted in the tango tradition. Saluzzi says that "This [album] is based upon aspects of the South American musical endeavor called tango...and tried to extend its reach to take in elements that might be considered alien to its specific search of new dynamics that might help it grow." With this music, the string parts written and the bandoneon part improvised, Saluzzi walks a thin line between tradition and innovation. He states that "I needed more possibilities. I grew up with the tango, but it has to change.... I needed freedom from the tango form, [but] the responsibility to conserve, this is there too. And it's dangerous to move, but we have to move." This, of course, is the dilemma facing all artists who want to advance an established form.

The album notes claim that "it is impossible to play...Saluzzi's music if made uneasy by a surfeit of sentiment, for even mawkishness can claim its place in this context, as part of the human condition that Saluzzi investigates in his portraits of his people." In fact, Saluzzi refers to the works on this album not as a portrait but as "emblematic snapshots of his homeland" and as "imaginary returns" to the towns and villages of Argentina. Saluzzi is teamed on the present album with the Rosamunde Quartet, one of whose founders, cellist Anja Lechner, "has been involved in a number of advanced tango projects" and who has been trying to put together a project with Saluzzi for years. Saluzzi also wanted to pursue a joint project with a classical string quartet, having decided that full-time tango musicians would be too mired in the traditions of the form and would be "inadequate interpreters" of his new material. The collaboration was a difficult one for the quartet because it required that they learn a new, much looser approach to their playing, but it has been a rewarding experience for them, and Kultrum promises to be a rewarding experience for the listener as well, regardless of how much or how little previous exposure to tango one brings to the experience.

You can hear selections from Kultrum for bandoneon and string quartet by Dino Saluzzi, performed by the composer with the Rosamunde Quartet on WHIL-FM (91.3) Thursday, February 25 at 7:00 pm as part of their weekly series of music from after 1950.

-- J. Green

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