Pablo Márquez: El Cuchi Bien Temperado (ECM New Series 2380)

El Cuchi Bien Temperado

Pablo Márquez
El Cuchi Bien Temperado

Pablo Márquez guitar
Recorded May 2012, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Even if The Well-Tempered Pig sounds far more appetizing in Spanish than it does in English, Pablo Márquez’s second album for ECM is an extraordinary achievement. The titular “Cuchi” (an ancient Quechua word meaning “pig”) was the sobriquet of one Gustavo Leguizamón (1917-2000), a composer, musician, lawyer, and pedagogue from the northwestern Argentine city of Salta. Salta is renowned for its musical heritage and is named for the same province that gave us Dino Saluzzi, who followed in Cuchi’s footsteps. Márquez describes Cuchi’s zambas (folk dances) as quintessential markers of Salta’s culture. Having grown up singing so many of them (they are, he explains, always accompanied by poems), Márquez was ideally suited to arrange them in a spectrum of 24 keys akin to, and inspired by, Bach’s monumental Well-Tempered Clavier. Although this album’s press makes further allusion to Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg, the listener would do well to absorb this music without intervention of a comparative filter.


Although Cuchi’s zambas take up the lion’s share of the program, the songlike vidalas, few as they are, reveal his truest heart. Opener “Coplas des Tata Dios” is a shimmering vidala-baguala, tinged with folkish hues and broken by the occasional tambora (rhythmic tapping at the base of the guitar strings). It seems to emerge from the fog of obscurity into the lucid here and now, and like so many of the pieces assembled here is intensely evocative. A single strum can reveal a shy glance through an open window, and the ghosts of a love that has yet to pass beyond it. Other instances of this form include “Chaya de la albahaca,” which plays with dissonant clusters and scraping of fingernails, and “Canción del que no hace nada,” which ends the album. But before we reach that bittersweet farewell, we are treated to an audible banquet like no other. Less represented dance forms such as the courting bailecito and exuberant carnavalito yield cavorting motifs and elastic strumming, while the three more compactly syncopated chacareras sprinkle the path with technically brilliant puzzles.

All of these aspects and more permeate the masterful zambas, which at Márquez’s touch serve as benchmarks of their form. In cinematic terms, they range from interior shot (“Zamba del carnival”) and soft-focus dream sequence (“Zamba de Lozano”) to flashback (“La cantor de Yala”) and close-up (“Zamba para la Viuda”). Also like an effective film, the music’s character development strengthens over a soundly engineered narrative arc and saves the best for later in “Zamba soltera” (this would be the love scene), “Zamba del pañuelo” (its enervating afterglow), the starkly realized “Maturana,” and “Chilena del solterón.” The latter is indicative of the entire set, pausing for breath and gathering new inspiration before rejoining the waves.

If Márquez were a painter, he would of course have his way with a brush, but would be especially skilled with a palette knife. With rigid elements he is able to render softness and structure in equal measure. As he recalls for an interview printed in this album’s booklet, Cuchi was fond of saying that “the ultimate accolade for an artist is that people think his work is anonymous.” But we can be thankful that, thanks to the efforts of guitarist, engineer, and producer, such anonymity may be harder to come by and will only enhance the wonders therein.

(To hear samples of Ei Cuchi Bien Temperado, click here.)

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