Dino Saluzzi & Anja Lechner: Ojos Negros (ECM 1991)

Ojos Negros

Ojos Negros

Dino Saluzzi bandoneón
Anja Lechner violoncello
Recorded April 2006, Kulturbuehne AmBach, Goetzis
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

There’s no better way to describe the wondrousness of Ojos Negros than to quote dance historian Sally Sommer: “Tango is self-transformation.” This groundbreaking debut of a duo nearly a decade in the making smacks of Sommer’s insight, works its fingers raw with the labor of its fluid intuition. Tango would be nothing without memory. That bandoneonista Dino Saluzzi and cellist Anja Lechner bring such a level of awareness to every note and space between alike is graspable enough. Less so are the whispers behind their collaboration, the linking impulse through which they sing as one. This can be neither taught nor so adroitly articulated, but can only be imbibed through the music of life itself. The album’s title is therefore no coincidence—black eyes hold in their pools the truth behind all that moves us.

Anyone familiar with Saluzzi’s work will know his skill for shaping a melody so heartwarming it hurts, and know also that his creative wellspring is itself a dark iris floating in red-veined expanse. Except for the title track, an alluring tango by Vicente Greco, all of the material on Ojos Negros is Saluzzi’s. That being said, once Lechner weaves her spirit into the quivering bandoneón of “Tango a mi padre,” it’s clear that it is just as much hers. The rare partnership established at the outset is, like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s pairing with Morelenbaum2in Casa, an unusual idea with organic results, so that one can hardly imagine the sonic landscape without their tangent. Thus caught in the lilting kinesis they so delicately render, we move with them, taking on the elasticity of gently disturbed water.

Dino and Anja
(Photo by Luca d’Agostino)

Saluzzi and Lechner tread foregrounds and backgrounds, stage left and stage right, interiors and exteriors with equal resonance, ever aware of the destinations at the heart of their storytelling regardless of whoever takes the lead. This constant give and take is the light in their prism, which shines brightest in the masterful “Duetto.” Its ashen beginnings ignite slumber before drifting back into peace, as if lazing beneath the swaying tendrils of the willow (each a necklace of time) evoked in the album’s title track. Elsewhere, the duo turns the lens a few clicks into softer focus. “Minguito,” for one, offers a stone rounded by decades of water’s passage as it relays pizzicato arpeggios to Saluzzi’s sustained builds. “El títere,” for another, invokes these contrasts afresh. A handful of especially contemplative pieces whittles the session into completion. Among them, the closing “Serenata” stands out for the depth of its emotion, pliant and mountainous.

The music of Ojos Negros is spoken for by the night. True to ECM standards, it is superbly recorded to boot, giving the bandoneón extraordinary breadth to enfold the cello at its center. As one of the label’s finest recordings and a highlight of Saluzzi’s ongoing travels, it simply deserves to be heard. It was also my first encounter with either musician, and if you have yet to open your ears to their command, I hope it may also be yours.

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