Review: Ella y Caló by Tango Bardo

Review: Ella y Caló by Tango Bardo

Tango Bardo comes in and leaves no stone unturned in their search for the most expressive phrasing. This is their way and it's why their sound is so distinct and memorable.

A tanguero who is not a fan of theirs might counter: this is why they sound the same no matter what they play!

Oh really? Doesn't Mr. Biagi always sound like Mr. Biagi?

Let's see whether we can resolve the argument as here comes their take on the work of Miguel Caló: Ella y Caló. Released on May 5, 2023, it features a "disco tanda" of Miguel Caló covers in the style of... Tango Bardo.

Unlike Orquesta Típica Sans Souci, this band does not pay homage to grandmaster Caló directly. Rather, They adopt the arrangements and add their own idiosyncracies and phrasing while leaving the underlying message intact.

They don't shoot through them with a machine gun like Andariega would. Rather, they take each phrase and squeeze it much, much harder than Caló ever did.

That said, never do they slip into parody! This time, they no nowhere as far as they did with Fresedo's Viejo tigre, which - ironically or perhaps tragically? - I am unable to enjoy in its original form after subscribing to how they reimagined it.

Now, what does "Ella" in "Ella y Caló" mean here? It means the singer here is of the female persuasion - Antonela Alfonso. This is her first appearance on Tango Bardo recordings, and I sure hope not the last one!

Let's see what they have in store for us!

The music in detail

Before we proceed, it's worth noting that the four-piece EP set can be used as-is by busy DJs. The tempos average 61 BPM, and the harmonic keys oscillate between C (minor/major) and G (minor/major), which are a pleasing five degrees apart from each other.

The EP opens with Al compás del corazón. You've danced to it many times, either on Caló's version or Di Sarli's.

The song starts abruptly - as though it continues a conversation that we were not privy to. If it had a more gradual introduction, it would work better as the opener as it would allow us to ease into the music while catching the last-minute cabeceo.

Then again, this is not Sans Souci. Tango Bardo takes no prisoners.

When it comes to Lluvia de Abril, I hadn't thought I'd ever be open to its reinterpretation. There aren't that many covers to begin with; strangely enough, this lyrical gem doesn't get nearly as much love as it deserves!

Even if not without reservations, I grudgingly admitted that yes, there's more to say on the subject. The abruptness and directness of Tango Bardo's phrasing may have brought out the hidden energy of the song that I didn't even know was there. By contrast, in the original version by Caló, this energy may have been too timid or understated.

The mystery of Caló's Después is nearly gone as the Bardoneons apply their high voltage to the tune. In this song, as in all the others, the urgency of the instrumentalists contrasts sharply with the ever-so-gentle singing of Antonela Alfonso. The members of Tango Bardo create a sense of urgency and intensity with their playing, while Antonela's soft vocals add a contrasting element of tenderness and vulnerability.

The closer is Corazón no le hagas caso. By this point, the dancers have either fully embraced the band's powerful musical style or found it too overwhelming to dance to. as the tune is carried forward with the same intensity and expressiveness as the tracks preceding it.

The music carries forward with the same intensity and passion as the tracks preceding it, creating a sense of momentum that carries the dancers along. However, as the song draws to a close, the pace gradually slows down, creating a sense of peacefulness and resolution that makes it an ideal closer. The dancers can rest in their embrace as the music comes to its final stop and have a moment to reflect before they part ways.

Final thoughts

The degree to which you'll come to appreciate this album depends very much on your priors.

Coming to it with the expectation to re-live the original recordings with just a few modifications and a lot better sound quality is not advisable. And if you are a first-time listener, I recommend starting with Rustico, for example, which contains source material that better matches their insatiable energy (their Pugliese and D'Arienzo covers are phenomenal).

The advantage of not sticking to one's preconceptions is that you get to enjoy these four songs in a new light. The grandmasters said all they had to say and we're not bound to their legacy just as they weren't bound to relive the early 1900s or even the pre-modern tango of the 1800s. And even as the phrasing and musical expression of Tango Bardo take a radical departure from Caló's, the bulk of the musical ideas are in place.

If I should summarize it, it's not a cover, it's not a remix or a deconstruction but a more liberal reimagining that paints the same picture with different colors.

As you can probably infer from my somewhat conflicted remarks above, I hesitate to fully endorse this album. Its energy might be too intense for my everyday needs. What I can state with full confidence is that it is made for dancing and when the right moment comes at a milonga, it will create a very satisfying experience. On a spectrum from "easy" to "hard" tandas in terms of risk, this one's going to be on the latter side. The rewards, however, might very well compensate for that!

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