Once upon a time, when I got started with contemporary tango, one of the first beats I heard were by the Walton/van Duinen Trio.
Chance are good you have never danced to their music - if you live outside of the Netherlands.
Their location has nothing to do with it, I think. There are plenty of European bands that most prolific milongueros know.
There are two reasons these guys operate in a special niche.
One, it's a trio: a bandoneon, guitar, and double bass. I have danced to duos (e.g., guitar+singer), and one can imagine dancing just to a single musician doing his best, e.g., a pianist (I have actually danced to that). Still, not a typical proposition in a milonga setting.
Two, they make original tangos. Yes, you heard that right: they produce new music for dancing, forgoing covers.
That a niche proposition since it's like climbing a mountain without any tools for support. Milongueros are a conservative bunch, even those who do "nuevo". They like to hear the same beats again and again, for it's comforting to know what your next step should be.
In my world, making new tango music for dancing deserves praise the most. Then again, my world is rather specific and niche, too.
With that said, let's see what they cooked for us in their latest album, More Tango.
This is more of an EP, not a full album, as it contains just six songs: four tangos, a vals and a milonga.
Flor de Tango is swift, often modulating, and very driven. The bandoneón is more often in charge than the guitar but both instruments contribute in carrying the melody forward. When one is leading, the other supplies the rhythmical support as does the double bass.
By the way, and this has just occurred to me, why the "double" in double bass? Is there a single bass out there, and if so, how does it look and sound?
Uh, never mind.
Dos Fasos is a new recording that the trio recorded earlier. Slower at about 55 BPM, it still leads the couple with predictable, steady beats. I found the melody catchy and interesting enough to follow.
Here's the thing, though, and that's true for any new music: you have to listen to it a few times for it to develop an emotional response in you.
This has to have been true for you early in your tango career when all tango music was new to you.
You, just as me, have most likely been occupied by other considerations, such as taking that step forward with your partner, to pay much attention to the music, that's for sure.
Still, I wonder if you can re-create that feeling the music has created inside of you the first time you heard it? It may very well be that it took many repeat occasions before you fell in love with any particular track?
Speculating I am, of course. Let me know what your experience has been!
Moving on, we have the vals El Nenúfar. While the tempo is at the ideal mark (around 67 BPM), I am afraid this is where I would have the most trouble if I were to find a spot for it in my set.
Much of it has to do with the instrumentation: 3 instruments can do all they can, and it still won't fill the room.
In this case, the arrangement is dreamy and hesitant, and there is not enough drive, which the musicians can achieve with sharp, distinct accents. It is regular but not energetic enough as the vals genre demands.
I quite enjoyed listening to it! Would I love to dance to it? Yes, and it would have to be a special occasion. As a vals it's not universally applicable, one would have to wait for the perfect moment.
Los Sábados is close in spirit to the opening track, Flor de Tango, and would be a great companion to it in fast tanda.
In my ears, it's even catchier, and so maybe, maybe it would lead the tanda. In this instance, I even forgot how small the ensemble is.
Would it be even more usable when played by a larger band? I'd imagine. Still, I could find a slot for a more chamber-music tanda with this track in it.
I think that La Rosa de Ana can be classified as "nuevo", and that's because it is very, very slow, flowing at around 40 BPM. That works great at a relaxed nuevo milonga. For a more traditional concept, not so much.
Myself, I rarely play chill-out music for dancing as I personally find it difficult to dance unless we are past the Cumparsita and I want to hug for a few more minutes before going home.
Those who've been reading this blog for some time know that I am particular about my milongas. How, then, does Al Cuartito fare in my view?
Pretty well, actually. The theme is catchy and the tempo is at the higher end, about 112 BPM. And here again, the only issue is the size of the band. The same song performed by a bigger orchestra would bring this to the next level!
There was an orquesta - Mala Pinta - that was a bigger version of the trio and recorded a single album, Sencillo, in 2015. Unfortunately, it was the only album, and the web domain of the band is now occupied by an unrelated enterprise.
So here we go, with the trio again, with inspiring new music that has created its own and rather small niche.
If it appears that I am unnecessarily critical, that's because I want new tango music for dancing to flourish - on the dance floor.
That comes with many pre-requisites, and one of them is the aggregate sound volume, or soundscape, rather, that the band can produce. Smaller bands have to overcome extra challenges to make it to live sets.
It's with these lenses that I have looked upon this album.
On its own, it's a small miracle. There are not that many people alive today who compose and perform original tango music. And for that, I am grateful.