Dino Saluzzi Group: El Valle de la Infancia (ECM 2370)

El Valle de la Infancia

Dino Saluzzi Group
El Valle de la Infancia

Dino Saluzzi bandoneón
José Maria Saluzzi guitar, requinto guitar
Nicolás “Colacho” Brizuela guitar
Felix “Cuchara” Saluzzi tenor saxophone, clarinet
Matias Saluzzi electric bass, double bass
Quintino Cinalli drums, percussion
Recorded March-May 2013 at Saluzzi Music Studio, Buenos Aires
Production coordination: José M. Saluzzi
Recording engineer: Néstor Díaz
Mix and mastering: Stefano Amerio
Album produced by Manfred Eicher

Over the past three decades of his association with Munich-based ECM Records, Argentine bandoneón virtuoso Dino Saluzzi has built a new home, but through his output on the label has traced so far back down his old roots that with El Valle de la Infancia (The Valley of Childhood) he might at last have reached the center of the earth. Playing once again with his “in-house” band, last heard with slightly different personnel on 2006’s Juan Condori, he emotes seamlessly with brother Felix on reeds, son José on guitars, and nephew Matías on electric and upright bass. Guitarist Nicolás Brizuela and percussionist Quintino Cinalli round out the extended family portrait. As ever, Dino’s humble beginnings (his father worked on a sugar plantation and played the bandoneón in his spare time before becoming a noted composer himself) manifest themselves in every note, and he credits them with freeing his creative approach. Dino’s mastery is thus so organic that to name it as such barely renders a sketch of his capabilities, as evidenced by this latest excursion. As it turns out, the valley of his childhood is a bountiful place to be.

The program of Infancia juxtaposes standalone pieces alongside compact suites, all of which blend into a meta-narrative dotted by contemplative pauses. At its core, the music (mostly by Dino himself) thrives on warm, impressionistic feelings, so that whenever the band does cohere, the effect is dazzling. “Sombras” welcomes new listeners to one of the most recognizable sounds in all of modern South American music, and old listeners to a familiar, paternal squeeze of the shoulder. The title means “shades” and connotes a mission statement Dino has been crafting since he first laid hands on bellows. His bandoneón exhales magic so potent and with such familiarity, one would swear to have been born in the presence of its melodies. After an intimate introductory sweep, José’s guitar (occupying the mid-left channel) opens its currents and inspires Father Saluzzi to low-flying surveys. Cinalli’s brushed drums (there’s nary a stick to be discerned on the album) lighten the weight of their memory.

Biological linkages strengthen in “La Polvadera” and “A mi Padre y a mi Hijo” (For My Father and Son), each a coming together of such thematic clarity as to whisk the heart away on a cloud. Brizuela’s picking (mid-right channel) contrasts verdantly with José’s nuanced flutter and sway. The two guitarists combine beautifully over butterfly-kissed snare and cymbals in “Churqui.” Cinalli’s rhythmic details make the scenography all the more believable. His patter may be that of rain one moment, the next of a magician who excels in misdirection.

The album’s mini-suites usher in colors from adjacent plains, where crops give way to the tilling of a new generation. Ranging from two to five parts each, the suites cover a range of emotional stirrings and interpret tunes by a handful of late Argentine folk singer-songwriters among Dino’s own. Moods vary accordingly. From the dissonant rainforest activity and droning resolution of “Urkupiña” to the guitar-driven medley that is “La Fiesta Popular,” motifs find their way through thickest forest and driest riverbed alike. Even “Tiempos Primeros,” which nods deepest toward folk traditions, balances images of sleeping and waking in the final curlicue of wind.

The tripartite “Pueblo” captures the band at its purest shade yet. Its introductory guitar solo (“Labrador”), written and played to angelic perfection by José, preludes a nocturnally realized “Salavina,” the most famous zamba (not to be confused with samba) of Mario Arnedo Gallo (1915-2001). The subtle unity forged therein carries over into Part III, the quietly majestic “La Tristecita” by Ariel Ramírez (1921-2010). As throughout the album, each instrument holds its own in equal measure, serving the depth of restraint over the allure of drama. That said, Felix’s tenor casts an inescapable spell: jazzy, gritty, and tasting of soil. All of which labors to remind us that even the most ethereal prisms of art extract their light from the embers of that which came before.

(See this article as it originally appeared in RootsWorld online magazine, where you may also hear samples.)

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