[20 January 2010]
These two expertly executed releases from Frankfurt-based quartet Mi Loco Tango exemplify the performative nature of the tango. It is a dance, yes, but the drama inherent in it can be conveyed aurally alone. Similarly, the realm of film score can so often be over-egged in execution (witness the totally charmless, vaudevillian villainy of the Spaghetti Western Orchestra for more information), and it is certainly an often-ignored problem to get it just right. Fortunately, the majority of these Mi Loco Tango recordings do very well indeed.
Del Diablo Y Del Angel is an exploration of the works of Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla—the prime exponent of the tango nuevo, such as it was in the 20th century. He was exposed to generations of what you might term analytical music—Neo-Classicists of the West and so forth—but twisted the merest of those influences into a vibrant, eclectic and, above all, living tango oeuvre.
Indeed, living and dying is the preoccupation of Del Diablo Y Del Angel (The Devil and the Angel). The siren-like violin lines of “Adios Nonino” provide a masterful counterbalance to the business of the accordion, the lines of which almost refuse to conform to complete melodic sense—a delicious conceit on the part of the composer. Similarly, the piano (which was by no means Piazzolla’s instrument) on “La Resurrection Del Angel” rumbles in a menacing, Grieg-like lower register, more a textural effect than a melodic device. Again, the corresponding lines in the violin and accordion provide that much-needed focus.
It’s as if the restriction of a quartet makes the music as expressive as it is, and Mi Loco Tango do a fine job of accentuating the nuances to their most effective ends. Aside from their musical forays, the bizarre German monologue that accompanies “El Tango” is actually strangely fitting and evocative, even if the initial shock is uncomfortable. These players are fit, sharp, and attuned to the barest meanings of the piece at hand.
When they turn their hands to film scores, though, is that attention to detail handled in the same way? The love that has clearly gone into recording and arranging doesn’t quite translate to the all-encompassing musical effect they gun for, but more often than not this isn’t a terrible cross to bear. In particular, and perhaps by virtue of being one of the better-known pieces, their interpretation of Morricone’s “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly” suffers most from a lack of expansion. It is incredibly ornate, but it doesn’t have the solemnity of the original.
Still, the remainder are efficient, innovative, and beautifully executed pieces. From the likes of “Cinema Paradiso” to “8½”, their craft is superb. The interpretations, though, suffer slightly by the nature of the ensemble’s limitations. Where on the Piazzolla disc they turn these limitations into a tense base to bounce from, they are a means of minor sabotage on the soundtracks. All that aside, these are super little records.