Not the same old dance and certainly not the same old song.
You may leave home, but it never leaves you. Just ask Diego Schissi. Here's a pianist who drifted from his birthplace of Buenos Aires to study jazz in the United States intensely for a decade, only to find himself back where he started, decoding the art of the tango. Schissi never forgot what he learned at the Conservatorio Nacional while playing stateside, and conversely, he never forgot what he learned in Miami when he returned home in the mid-'90s. And as one musical world fed the other, the jaw-dropping music of Tongos formed in Schissi's mind. To call the album "innovative" is debatable. But no one wants to debate these merits in the face of music that sounds this stunning.
The "tongo" is Diego Schissi's latest development -- a slight variation of the tango that is sliced three ways just like it's parent form. You've got the "tongo" itself, the "canción" as the waltz, and "liquido" as the cut time. All the while Schissi keeps the instrumentation of tangos intact, with Guillermo Rubino on violin, Santiago Segret on bandoneón, Ismael Grossman on guitar, and Juan Pablo Navarro on bass. So just like Diego Schissi's life and education, you can hear the familiar being interwoven into the uncharted -- to the point where you don't know where either one starts or ends. You have your rose-between-the-teeth moments as well as your splattered piano scales with rhythmic freak outs, and the transition between the two is buried, satisfying the listener's need for mystique.
It's always difficult to label a work of art "flawless" because, let's face it, how do you know if there isn't something more perfect out there? To say that your favorite album is flawless just because you like it doesn't do anything to help its overall appeal. Having said that, I will inch myself slowly away from the trunk, onto the branch, and say that Rubin's violin, Segret's bandoneón, and Schissi's guitar are more than just a stable marriage -- they are soul-mates. The timbres of each instrument seem designed to be hooked up to one another. This goes for their unison moments as well as their solo and vamp trades. The fact that Grossman and Navarro are all that's left of the ensemble makes their role in the whole thing even more remarkable. So many of these tongos and liquidos are rhythmically driven, yet there are no drums. It's one of those things you never truly realize until you sit down and look at the credits. With nothing but the numerically titled tongos, cancións, and liquidos to guide you, does Tongos actually achieve a level of perfection? Do the lack of liner notes and scissor-sharp musicianship make it a flawlessly self-contained time capsule album? And will I catch foot-in-mouth?
Tongos is a recording I took in with no expectations and was nonetheless blown away by its simultaneous simplicity and complexity. One gets the impression that the differences between "tango" and "tongo" are slight ones, perhaps even cheekily so. You may have even heard this kind of hybrid on the Tzadik label by now. However, Diego Schissi doesn't pull the covers all the way back on his process, and it gives you a chance to wonder where his affectations lie. One may say ambiguity, I say marvelous.