El Encuentro finds Argentinean composer, bandleader, and bandoneon master, Dino Saluzzi, teaming up again with cellist Anja Lechner. The two previously worked together on Saluzzi’s collaboration with the Rosamunde Quartett, Kultrum, in 1998, and on a duo album, 2007’s Ojos Negros. El Encuentro also involves Holland’s Metropole Orchestra and the four extended pieces are the result of concert given at Amsterdam’s Muziekbegouw in 2009.
Saluzzi, who began his musical career following in the footsteps of nuevo tango pioneer Astor Piazzolla, has, since the 1970s, been evolving the expressive possibilities of the bandoneon (a type of concertina) with a range of musical projects combining jazz, classical, and tango styles. The same avant-garde spirit that drove Piazzolla can be found in Saluzzi’s music, as can a similar desire to incorporate sounds from around the world while still retaining an essential flavor of Argentinidad.
“Vals de los Días”, for bandoneon, violoncello, and string orchestra, provides a fine example of how these various elements are brought into play, as streetwise tango flavors mix with classical, orchestral patterns. As Piazzolla was wont to do, Saluzzi utilizes the strategies of a film soundtrack composer, mixing stabs of local color with layers of traditional orchestral wash. “Plegaria Andina” adds saxophone to the ensemble, courtesy of Saluzzi’s brother Felix. This piece is based on the track “Andina”, from the 1988 solo album of the same name. It is probably sacrilege to point out that parts of it evoke “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”—even more so on this orchestral reading than on the original—but Piazzolla himself confessed on at least one occasion to liking Evita, so perhaps the association is not entirely unintended.
The title track boasts some pulse-shifting instances of controlled drama, as Saluzzi brings the music to a reflective lull, or steps it up with a dancing bandoneon line. There doesn’t seem to be quite enough of this, however, and one wishes for more danger in this lengthy piece. Listeners who have enjoyed Saluzzi’s smaller-scale work, either as a leader or as a vital sideman on projects such as Tomasz Stanko’s From the Green Hill, may wonder whether there is enough of the man on offer here. Certainly the bandoneon leads for much of the time. However, it remains a small voice within the collective, a fascinating, yet ultimately minor, current in the orchestral tide.
Where the duo setting of Ojos Negros allowed both Saluzzi and Lechner to shine, both are lost for much of El Encuentro. Their collaboration on Kultrum also had more fire to it, as can be seen by comparing its track, “Miserere”, with the piece of the same name that serves as the finale to this album. What was spiky and dangerous there is smooth and safe here. It’s interesting, and at times, quite beautiful, but Saluzzi, it seems, is capable of more when he works with less.