Dino Saluzzi & Anja Lechner: El Encuentro (ECM 5051)

El Encuentro (1)

Dino Saluzzi
Anja Lechner
El Encuentro: A film for bandoneon and violoncello
Directors: Norbert Wiedmer and Enrique Ros
Camera: Norbert Wiedmer and Peter Guyer
Editing: Katharina Bhend
Sound, sound editing, and sound mix: Balthasar Jucker
Production: PS Film, Biograph Film
Co-produced by SRF
Post-production: Recycled TV

In Sounds and Silence, Norbert Wiedmer produced a rather fleeting portrait of ECM Records and its head Manfred Eicher, leaving viewers with, at best, vague sketches by trying to do too much in one go. But with El Encuentro, glimpses of which one might remember seeing in the former documentary, he has given us the film that should have been. Along with co-director Enrique Ros, Wiedmer touches more of the label’s ethos by following only two of its major artists than Sounds and Silence does in profiling many more besides. Despite being from opposite sides of the Atlantic, gentle giant of the bandoneón Dino Saluzzi and cellist Anja Lechner have bridged waters of their own making since 1998, when they first collaborated in the Kultrum project that featured the Rosamunde Quartett, of which the cellist was founder.

What makes El Enceuntro such an insightful window is the relative clarity of its narrative glass. At its core is a trip taken by Dino and Anja—so one feels compelled to call them after getting to know them so well by the end credits—to Salta, Argentina, where the bandoneonista absorbed the tango that would become central to his life. It’s an art form that would become increasingly important for Anja, who cites her own deep knowledge of, and respect, for the tango as a motivation for forging this intergenerational partnership with Dino. She recalls learning these rhythms for the first time in Argentina, where signatures rendered cut and dry through classical training now blossomed at her fingertips, reinvigorated.

El Encuentro 1

Dino meanwhile looks back on memories of his father, who after working a long day at the factory would sing for their village. Dino took to his father’s love of song like a sunset to ocean and, as the film makes clear, has passed that spirit on to Anja in kind. Indeed, the cellist says that even though Dino is always more comfortable playing with his family, she feels she has become a part of it. Whether dancing with the locals or navigating a recording session with Dino and his brother Felix, she adapts with chameleonic precision—which is to say: unthinkingly.

El Encuentro 2

But Dino’s story is as much about leaving home as finding it. He regales us with stories of putting his home country behind him to support his family, and of finding an unexpected brother in the late George Gruntz, who in 1982, as president of the Berlin Jazz Festival, traveled to Latin America in search of musicians and recruited Dino on the spot. No one in Gruntz’s band had ever seen or heard a bandoneón before, and this opportunity would prove career-defining.

El Encuentro 5

The past, however, is never too far behind. As Dino admits, “I compose with memories and hopes,” and in so doing kneads the passage of time into desired shapes. In this respect, the film is as much a meeting of lives as of minds. Anja lets us in on her own past: playing with rock bands at age 12, among whom she learned to improvise in the heat of the moment; hearing Dino’s music for the first time in Munich, where she’d so dutifully immersed herself in classical music of the European masters, even while surrounding herself with the melodies and forms of other places. And for her that’s the key. You have to go to these places to experience the emotional core of their music. Location is vocation. It’s something that cannot be substituted or recreated.

El Encuentro 4

None of this is meant to suggest that Lechner has abandoned her classical foundations. Far from it, as evidenced in her interactions with composer Tigran Mansurian in Armenia, the country dearest to her after Argentina.

El Encuentro 3

The cameras are there again for conversations with Levon Eskenian, who explains to her the sacred music of Armenia, and how when playing folksongs on the duduk one must always convey a sense of improvisation. Anja thus characterizes life in Armenia as more immediate, whereas in Argentina people truly engage and look into you. Such is the balance of her traveling life.

El Encuentro 6

On Dino’s own travels, no companion has been more constant than his trusted bandoneón. “I can’t conceive of life without the bandoneón,” he says. “The instrument has spoken with modesty since its conception. It doesn’t raise its voice, it only speaks with calmness, simplicity, and directness. All of the words are written here. All of the thoughts are here. All of the difficult equations are here. You only have to serve to bandoneón and understand that you’re letting the human experience pass through other channels.” But he also believes that bandoneonists should explore beyond the tango and create new forms of music. As if his recordings weren’t already ample proof of this advice in action, excerpts from concerts with drummer U.T. Gandhi and singer Alessandra Franco, and with the Metropole Orchestra in Amsterdam’s Musiekgebouw under the baton of Jules Buckley, show just how catalytic the instrument can be.

El Encuentro 7

But it is in combination with the cello where channels of communication open their hearts to the vastest possibilities. Just as Anja says, “Music is a world in which all emotions exist,” so are emotions a world in which all music exists. And at their center, we can feel these two souls creating a third for the listener to inhabit at will.

Saluzzi and Lechner
(Photo credit: Juan Hitters)

Early on in the film, Dino wonders how people can connect at all to his melancholic music, even as he recognizes something that meets the listener halfway. “For me,” he goes on, “doubt is driving force. It’s like gasoline. You use gasoline to run a car. And for us to work, we need doubt. Because if doubt is a driving force, then it can’t become a paralyzing problem. On the contrary, it’s a generator of ideas and desires, of searches and answers to the great questions we have.” And if we must be the electricity that powers this generator, how fortunate we are to be swept up in its current.

Dino Saluzzi: Imágenes – Music for piano (ECM New Series 2379)

2379 X

Dino Saluzzi
Imágenes: Music for piano

Horacio Lavandera piano
Recorded October 2013 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
U.S. Release Date: September 25, 2015

For a musician whose heart pulls so much blood from the tango and folklores both longstanding and personal, bandoneón master Dino Saluzzi is a composer in the same way that a poet is a writer. Every syllable takes on note value, which in the grander scheme of a finished piece yields shape and color. Whereas through his standby instrument he actualizes breath by way of a smaller “keyboard,” here Saluzzi bows to the interpretation of young Argentine pianist Horacio Lavandera at a much larger one in a sonic Decalogue of epic intimacy. The piano’s classical associations do nothing to obscure Saluzzi’s idiosyncrasies, which in this context mix two parts atmospheric to each melodic.

In his German-only liner notes, Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich characterizes Saluzzi’s piano music as speaking in “fragmented images.” From the rolling arpeggios that begin the 2001 title composition, we encounter a sound world that surely privileges fragments: of memory, of place, and of time. The proximity allowed by ECM’s longtime engineering ally Jan Erik Kongshaug assures listeners that the music is speaking not only to, but also into, them. Here is where the darkest hours of Saluzzi’s timekeeping are to be discovered, where every sweep of the minute hand is the arm of a shadow piecing together in slow desperation a coherent narrative of who it used to be. Moods and techniques vary accordingly, one moment rhapsodizing in sunshine while the next sinking into the depths of some forgotten, nocturnal lake.

Lavandera and Saluzzi
(Photo credit: Juan Hitters)

Although Los Recuerdos (1998) would seem to unfold at higher elevations, its plumbing is no less subterranean. With resolute sporadicity, Saluzzi-via-Lavandera (that the composer was present at the recording session is obvious, even without the candid liner photos confirming this) dabs from a psychological palette. A colorless abyss provides the backdrop for streaks of yellow and brown, splashes of red and lavender, and the occasional sparkle of gold. But the default is something far cloudier, a hue that cannot ever seem to settle on one constitution. In a supplemental liner note, guitarist Pablo Márquez, who like Saluzzi grew up around the mountains of Salta, confirms this: “Dino never allows himself to become trapped in one aesthetic; he is always somewhere unexpected.” Said genre-defying style only adds water to the composer’s stream of consciousness. His notecraft oars its way into the moonlit inlet of Media Noche (1990) and docks at the misty way station of Vals Para Verenna (1987) with equal attention to detail. Even the minute-long etude Moto Perpetuo (2000) is no less rich in imagery and association. Márquez’s sentiments further emphasize Saluzzi’s affinity for storytelling. In such pieces as La Casa 13 (2002) and Donde Nací (1990), one can feel his thick approach to description. Others, such as Romance (1994), which in its tuneful brevity relates the oldest story of them all, and the Satie-like Claveles (1984), come across as songs in search of words, even as they content themselves with mere hints thereof.

But as the program evolves in self-conscious order, slender shards of nomination cohere into wider scenes by the glue of minimal vocabularies. The majestic peaks of Montañas—which, having been composed in 1960, is the earliest of the ten—reach skyward with resolution of a younger soul, one who carves with fists over chisels yet who in doing so affords through the grime of experience that much more to consider.

From these portals of reflection, Lavandera emerges as a storyteller in his own right with pianism at its most impressionistic—which is to say: indelible.

(To hear samples of Imágenes, click here.)

Saluzzi/Lechner/Saluzzi: Navidad de los Andes (ECM 2204)

Navidad de los Andes

Dino Saluzzi
Anja Lechner
Felix Saluzzi
Navidad de los Andes

Dino Saluzzi bandoneon
Anja Lechner violoncello
Felix Saluzzi tenor saxophone, clarinet
Recorded July 2010, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Building on the fruitfulness of their previous collaborations, Dino Saluzzi and Anja Lechner have never sounded so beautiful together as they do on Navidad de los Andes. Their unity reaches profoundest depths, more attentive than ever to the value of spaces between them. This achievement proves to be the album’s blessing and its curse.

In light of their groundbreaking Ojos Negros, the Argentine bandoneón master and German cellist welcome the former’s brother Felix, a reedman of exquisite talent who has graced such classic records as Mojotoro, Juan Condori, and more recently El Valle de la Infancia. Where in those larger contexts the Saluzzi “family band,” as it has come to be known, worked wonders in selective navigations of original and traditional sources, in this more compact setting Felix’s contributions on tenor saxophone feel somewhat excessive. Thankfully, they appear only on three tracks, working progressively better from the incongruous “Requerdos de Bohemia” to the jazzier “Candor/Soledad” and lastly to “Ronda de niños en la montaña,” where it fits best for being more like a voice singing a lullaby.

Lechner and the Saluzzis

Felix’s clarinet, on the other hand, is a revelation. Whether nominally fronted in fragments from the “Trio for clarinet and two bandoneóns” or exploring the tango in “Variaciones sobre una melodia popular de José L. Padula,” his heavenly tone deepens the atmosphere of everything he touches. On that point, the trio functions most effectively when duties are shared in equal measure, as in “Son qo’ñati,” a lively dance that finds each musician handing off motives to the next in a continuous chain of technique and ingenuity. Breathtaking.

But it is, again, the bandoneón-and-cello center that mines the purest ore. Each collaboration in this vein develops its own film of a faraway ecosystem. The whistles and birdcalls of “Flor de tuna” give way to the cloudless sky of “Sucesos” and finish the album with the egalitarian “Otoño.” Along the way, the duo gives “Gabriel Kondor,” last heard on Saluzzi’s ECM debut, Kultrum, a nostalgic makeover.

Despite the tenor’s minor setback, the album stays true to its title, which translates as “Andean Nativity.” A spiritual sense of family and community across eras has always been at the heart of Saluzzi’s music, through which those dynamics thrive. Indeed, life would be nothing without them.

(To hear samples of Navidad de los Andes, click here.)

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.)

Saluzzi/Danielsson/Saluzzi: Responsorium (ECM 1816)

Responsorium

Responsorium

Dino Saluzzi bandoneon
Palle Danielsson double-bass
José Maria Saluzzi acoustic guitar
Recorded November 2001 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Responsorium is for all intents and purposes a companion album to 1997’s Cité de la Musique. The kinship is suggested not only in the instrumentation (bandoneón, double bass, acoustic guitar), but also by the similar composition of cover art, in which angled sunlight pours through glass and gives warm indications of a world beyond. Joined again by son José Maria, and replacing Marc Johnson with Palle Danielsson on upright, Dino opens the set with a dedication to his brother and fellow bandoneonista Celso (who can be heard on Mojotoro). The rhythmic impulse is uniquely his own and shines in every unexpected turn of phrase. “Mónica” treads even deeper into the forest, leaving a trail of crumbs for the hungry. It, too, feels like a dedication, perhaps to a child, and treats the bandoneón as a body from which to emanate virtue. Bass and guitar carry that virtue through mountains and valleys, leaving traces in every river it crosses. On the subject of crosses, “Responso por la muerte de Cruz” bows its head in reverence to the divine in the human, if not also the human in the divine. José Maria’s steady fingers take on most of the emotional load. His sensitivity arches over Danielsson’s low stitching with forlorn comfort.

The album gets its first boost in “Dele…, Don!!” The spirit of the tango is alive and well in this configuration. One might even hear the feet hitting the floor were it not for the sheer delicacy of the playing, for it is in its ability to float massive traditions in but an inch of water that the trio’s brilliance shines. Each player thus brings a unique stamp to the record. Whether it’s Danielsson’s shadowy punctuation (“Cuchara”), José Maria’s pliant voicing (“Reprise: Los hijos de Fierro”—note also his effortless soloing in “La pequeña historia de…!”), or Dino’s narrative ingenuity (“Vienen del sur los recuerdos”), there’s plenty to admire and re-admire in the spokes of this melodic wheel. And indeed, in the end, as the credits roll languidly across the screen of “Pampeana ‘Mapu,’” those unaccompanied bellows have more to say than an entire orchestra, able as they are to forge a choir of themselves. What they lack in speech they make up for in song, and with that song comes the drizzle of a force so genuine that it might just go on singing forever. There’s only one way to find out: listen.

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.

Dino Saluzzi Group: Juan Condori (ECM 1978)

Juan Condori

Dino Saluzzi Group
Juan Condori

Dino Saluzzi bandoneon
Felix “Cuchara” Saluzzi tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet
José Maria Saluzzi acoustic and electric guitars
Matias Saluzzi double-bass, bass guitar
U.T. Gandhi drums, percussion
Recorded October 2005, Estudios Moebio, Buenos Aires
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

A Dino Saluzzi album is the audio equivalent of looking through a family photo album. Not so allegorically in this case, as Dino’s brother Felix (saxophones and clarinet), son José Maria (guitars), Felix’s son Matias (basses), and honorary kin U.T. Gandhi (drums and percussion) join the bandoneón virtuoso for this set of 12 moving pictures, each with its own thumb-worn page. Although named for a childhood friend whose free spirit holds special place in his heart, Juan Condori is less a personal portrait than it is a biography of a time and place preserved in memory. Indeed, from memory come the building blocks of Saluzzi’s music, the very blood without which it might never reach those bellows.

The themes of Juan Condori cross a few historical hairs, from the dying wisdom of South American indigenous peoples (“La Vuelta De Pedro Orillas” and “Chiriguano”) and the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires (“Memoria”) to the life force of music itself (“La Parecida”). If any such references describe a world we know, then it is all we can do to seek hope in these instruments of light: not only memory, but also remembrance. Aside from the acoustic “Soles” by José, written metallic on wind carrying an attic’s scent, the Pedro Laurenz tango classic “Milonga De Mis Amores,” and the spontaneous “Improvisacion,” all the music here is Saluzzi Sr.’s own. Father and son share moments of clear telepathy, as in the airy dance movements of “La Parecida,” in which they paint starbursts of light around the Matias’s deep axis. José enchants further in “A Juana, Mi Madre,” in which his electric evokes the nocturnal stylings of John Abercrombie, and in the title track, while Felix’s pastoral clarinet in “Las Cosas Amadas” and “Los Sauces” deepens the feeling of locality. These and more comprise a set one can only admire for its thematic integrity, its emotive charge, and the quiet flow of its sustenance.

Pay close attention to this one. It brings water to the desert.

Dino Saluzzi: El Encuentro (ECM 2155)

El Encuentro

Dino Saluzzi
El Encuentro

Dino Saluzzi bandoneon
Anja Lechner violoncello
Felix ‘Cuchara’ Saluzzi tenor saxophone
The Metropole Orchestra
Jules Buckley conductor
Live recording February 13, 2009 Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, Amsterdam
Music supervisor: Gert Jan van den Dolder
Recording engineer: Gert de Bruijn (Dutchview)
Assistant: Per van der Zande (Dutchview)
Mixing engineers: Gert de Bruijn and Ronald Trijber (Dutchview)
Concert production and executive producer for the NPS: Gustavo Pazos
A production of NPS Radio in collaboration with ECM Records

El Encuentro depicts Dino Saluzzi as a composer willing to go wherever the stream of consciousness takes him. In this, his first live album, the bandoneón maestro joins Anja Lechner (cello) and brother Felix (tenor saxophone) before the Metropole Orchestra, under the direction of Jules Buckley, for a varicolored quatralogy. Because the bandoneón is practically an orchestra unto itself, pairing it with strings feels like an implosive rather than explosive stroke of sonic fortuity. This introspective dynamic is heightened by the asymptotic relationship between the soloists, who are fully present in Plegaria Andina. This piece revisits thematic material from 1988’s Andina in a braid of wind, branches, and leaves: each strand a traveler from a different corner of the world. Even when silent, the soloists float like an oar-less vessel bobbing to the pulse of tide. The ruminations of this piece are thus deeply aquatic and equally representative of the clouds they reflect.

The relationship between bandoneón and cello is the album’s main anchor, and takes root in deepest reef in Vals de los días. Like the program as a whole, its moods and melodies are in constant flux, its themes as fleeting as the air in Saluzzi’s bellows, the touch of horsehair on Lechner’s strings. Assailed by dances and memories, their vessels keel and spread their melodic passengers far and wide. There is abundance to be felt here, plucked like ripe fruit from a branch, squished between the toes like wet sand, and dunked like the baptized body into holy river’s flow.

Despite its massive proportions, the title piece comports itself with the delicacy of a spider. It is the most brooding piece of the four—one which, despite its peaks and gorgeous finish, wallows in a pool of shadows. Its final jubilations pick at a lone thread of light, unravel the tapestry of the night, and weave a new one into the Miserere that follows. The strings, robust yet tentative in their dynamic recession, are servants to the bandoneón, the latter a messenger sent from above. Its lungs exhale only peace, leaving no doubt that Saluzzi’s is a spiritual art.

Despite the number of musicians gathered here, El Encuentro is one of Saluzzi’s most intimate realizations, compressing the sweep of an epic film into the eye of a spyglass. Because the title means “The Meeting,” it is tempting to read the album as one large cycle. Closer listening, however, reveals the self-awareness of the compositions therein. They are not cardinal points on a compass, but rather corners of a world that share a plane only in maps. Their yearning is more than physical; it is environmental. They meet only in dreams, drifting farther out to the sea with every heave. Were it not for the applause, we might blissfully remain so, never to feel the touch of shore beneath our soles.

(To hear samples of El Encuentro, click here.)

Dino Saluzzi: Cité de la Musique (ECM 1616)

Dino Saluzzi
Cité de la Musique

Dino Saluzzi bandoneón
Marc Johnson double-bass
José Maria Saluzzi acoustic guitar
Recorded June 1996 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

While my rummaging through ECM’s back catalogue has produced a substantial body of personal discoveries, it has also deepened my admiration for artists with whom I was already familiar. One of these is Dino Saluzzi, the Argentinian bandoneón player who enhances his instrument with a mastery that is undeniably sincere. For this trio date he joins his son, guitarist José Maria, and bassist Marc Johnson, ever the idiomatic chameleon, for a set of nine pieces. All bear the compositional stamp of Saluzzi, save for a heartfelt rendition of Earl Zindars’s “How My Heart Sings.” The album also contains two dedicatory pieces. First is the lilting “Gorrión,” for Jean-Luc Godard, which melts our hearts like an Anna Karina close-up and transplants us gently into the soil of “Coral para mi Pequeño y Lejano Pueblo.” Written for an unnamed childhood friend, it ends the album in an eddy of fond memories that practically jump from his keys. On the way to these Saluzzi leads us down a path dusted by careful footprints. Johnson takes an early lead in the title track, while José adds flowering touches to “Introduccíon y Milonga del Ausente,” each pluck liberating a petal from its soft hub. Saluzzi’s playing here recalls Milhaud’s Prélude No. 1 and proves the reach of his art. “El Rio y el Abuelo” introduces whispers of rhythm before Johnson’s swirling airflow lifts the bandoneón ever higher. “Romance” is an endearing duet between father and son, and gives voice to their admirable restraint. Even at his most plaintive, Saluzzi is always warm, which makes “Winter” all the rarer for its icy depths. The guitar’s rounded tone grinds every shadow’s blade into soft light, revealing the hopeful core within.

With nary a single note for mere effect, Cité de la Musique sings to us as a wolf might howl to the night, which is to say: instinctively, without judgment, and without fail.