Review: Poesía by Cuarteto SolTango

Review: Poesía by Cuarteto SolTango

Everyone should be talking about Poesía.

And in an alternate world where tango enjoys the same level of popularity as today's popular music, they would be.

Cuarteto SolTango recorded the album with Leonel Capitano who, by many accounts, best captures the essence of a Golden Age tango singer. He's featured on all tracks except for two instrumentals, which include Chiqué and, astonishingly, A la luz del candil (recall Di Sarli's collaboration with Jorge Durán to understand my surprise).

Poesía is here, and it is a masterpiece.

One remarkable thing that I must highlight is their choice of repertoire. Whereas a typical new tango release contains predominantly well-known songs (such as: Buscándote, El huracán, etc.), this one takes a more varied approach to the tango heritage. You'll hear songs that don't make it onto milonga playlists very often, such as Vieja recova and En carne propia. The cuarteto has done us a tremendous service by giving these songs another chance in the 21st century

And no, these are not some "buried treasures" that would only excite tango researchers. Milongueros will love them!

Now, let's listen to it together.

The music in detail

Vieja recova leads the album. It's neither D'Arienzo's nor Pugliese's arrangement but rather Salgán's. You are unlikely to hear Orquesta Horacio Salgán at milongas, and for good reasons; his work could be very intellectual, often to the detriment of danceability. Cuarteto SolTango's take should not share this fate; if anything, Leonel Capitano is utterly pleasant to listen to unlike Ángel Díaz, whose mannerisms strike me as annoying.

Desvelo hasn't made it into the tango canon, even though it was first recorded by Gardel in 1924. There's one Golden Age version by Rodio/Serna from 1944, another by Troilo/Ruiz, neither one very convincing. The one you've most likely heard was Pugliese/Morán.

It is this arrangement that SolTango chose. It flows a bit slower and as I started listening to it, I worried it might veer into the canción territory, but it didn't; the beat is solid. The cuarteto did not copy Pugliese's nervous ticks nor did Capitano want to imitate Morán—they made Pugliese's arrangement their own.

It's much less... despondent; while Morán sounds like he was on the brink of taking his life, Capitano dispenses with such theatrics. There's still some residual pain in his retelling of the story; just enough to convey the feeling and choosing not to get carried away by the sheer bleakness of the lyrics.

Mientras gime el bandoneón was apparently only recorded once, which I find hard to believe given how powerful the song is, but other than Troilo/Ruiz, it looks like nobody else took a shot. Until now—SolTango recreated Troilo's arrangement with precision and a lot more clarity. It's more than a "cover", and this applies to the whole album; the band followed the same arrangement and at least in this case, made it sound better than the original.

Copas, amigas y besos places our cuarteto in a more competitive landscape. You may have danced to Biagi's, Canaro's, or Troilo's versions. SolTango chose to remake Troilo here, too, which seems to me the right choice again. The arrangement lends itself really well to the cuarteto's virtuosity and El Capitano shows that there's no need to overly dramatize the phrases to drive the message home.

In A la luz del candil, the cuarteto takes time off to play more for listening than for dancing. It's a beautiful concert on the theme of one of the better-known songs of the tango canon. Don't get me wrong: you could dance to it if you so desired! I found the interplay of the instruments and the phrasing compelling—it is catchy, it is memorable. That it did not beckon me to dance is more a reflection of my taste than any indisputable characteristic of this track.

Continuing the theme of this album, the vals Flor de lino isn't an evergreen piece you'd hear on every milonga. Caló recorded it with Iriarte, but that's not the source of the cuarteto's arrangement: most likely, the Troilo/Ruiz version was.

They play it a tad slower than Troilo and somewhat softer, too; it's a risky move for a vals that demands accented, clear beats, but somehow they made it work. It helps that the beat is very regular and easy to predict as a result.

Alas, we'll need to wait (and ask for) one or more albums with El Capitano to make a tanda! I find the singer so distinct and unique that I would rather not mix this with other bands.

With Farol (not to be confused for Farolero, Farolito, or Farolito de papel), the band turns the compass back to Osvaldo Pugliese, who recorded it with Roberto Chanel in 1943. As with their other remakes of Pugliese, they do not try to out-compete him by turning the drama dial to eleven, which they wisely avoid; doing so for early 1940s Pugliese wouldn't serve the music justice. They spin the phrases with precision and restraint, making suggestions rather than issuing commands. This, and Leonel Capitano's elegant singing makes it comfortable on the dance floor; dancing Pugliese should not always be an adrenaline-fueled rush!

Vamos corazón continues the lineup of lesser-known songs that could otherwise be forgotten. Canaro recorded it and so did Fresedo; not sure which was the source here as I can't bring myself to listen to Fresedo's music. This, however, is an optimistic, pleasurable affair that I would very much like to relive on the dance floor! Please, please, let's have more happy tangos! 😅

One could argue that Doble castigo should've been contained in the tango archives. Only Salgán recorded it, and while I can sympathize with the band's interest in his complex, brainy arrangements, this is definitely on the heavier side. It demands that the leader be fully engaged at all times. You decide whether that would be worth your time: there is a potential payoff here for a subgroup of dancers who can digest, and appreciate, the intricate phrasing.

En carne propia reveals another facet of Cuarteto SolTango. Up to this point, their execution has been meticulous and, to some extent, restrained and sober. Here, it's as if they've had a glass of red wine (just one) and broadened their emotional range. This isn't the theatricality that Romantica Milonguera often indulges in; their German precision remains intact. They also seem anchored by El Capitano, who steadies the ship once he takes the stage.

As far as I can tell, the arrangement is again drawn from Troilo, who recorded this with Alberto Marino in 1946. Another notable version is by Federico/Vidal from the same year. The cuarteto has breathed new life into this nearly forgotten song!

The excitement curve stays high in Chiqué. Unlike the songs we've heard so far, this one has a multitude of Golden Age and later versions. Yet it's a rendition that feels unique and fresh because the cuarteto opted for an arrangement you've probably never danced to: Francini-Pontier's.

Like Salgán, Orquesta Francini-Pontier has been consigned to the tango archives. Even if a track or two might merit a modern dancer's attention, the sound quality of existing transfers is dismal. This gave SolTango an opportunity to explore and showcase the merits of the arrangement, and I must say, I'm sold!

It has shades of latter-day Pugliese and demands my attention, reciprocating with a wealth of emotional nuances that I can channel on the dance floor. It's not without risks; as a DJ, I'd exercise caution when selecting this track for a regular milonga. But let's just say I'd be tempted to play it should the right occasion present itself.

Sin lágrimas has the potential to be a very weepy tune, and I was pleased that the cuarteto opted for nostalgia rather than inducing suicidal thoughts—not that I expected anything schmaltzy from them at this point! It's a refined cover of Pugliese's rendition that is classy, restrained, yet clearly communicates the intended emotion.

To be clear, I also love Pugliese's version; I was referring to what could have been, debating with my imaginary opponent as I'm prone to do.

I didn't care much for Pugliese's De vuelta al bulín, and the cuarteto's cover hasn't changed my opinion much. Back in 1951, Alberto Morán shouted his words almost angrily. Leonel Capitano maintains his usual cool, although he does let off some steam. The issue is that the song's rhythmic complexity doesn't come with a melodic payoff. I couldn't bring myself to care much about all the drama 😉. Needless to say, your assessment might differ, and that's OK!

Milonga triste is neither a milonga nor a piece for most traditionally-minded playlists. Likely based on the Edmundo Rivero's version, it's a chilled-out tune meant for sitting-down enjoyment. That's not to say that it wouldn't work for your nuevo friends!

Ropa blanca, however, is most definitely a milonga, and a wonderful one at that!

This tune has been waiting for the right orquesta to reveal its true worth, and it found it in Cuarteto SolTango.

Ricardo Malerba, the composer, did an okay job with Orlando Medina in 1943. It's better than mediocre, but given that only a minority of dancers get up for a milonga tanda, it needs to be more than just okay.

Troilo's version is much sharper and generally delivers what's needed. If he had a better singer than Marino, I'd consider that the canonical version.

Don't get me started on Demare/Berón; the beats are confusing and seem influenced by other, non-milonga traditions. Pass.

Cuarteto SolTango knows how to perform a fantastic milonga; they've proven it before. The tempo spot-on at 107 BPM, the accents are crisp and clear, and the song joyfully races toward a very satisfying conclusion. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 💖

To close the album, the band chose El último organito, the opening notes of which evoke Organito de la tarde before taking a different direction. Likely based on the Troilo/Rivero arrangement from 1949, the song gives more space for Leonel Capitano to lead—he's very much the star here. He deserves it; after all, he's been the cantor de orquesta for all but two of the vocal pieces on the album, which in today's age is unprecedented and deserving of extra praise.

In summary

If you don't own your copy of Poesía by now, then I have utterly failed to convey the album's greatness!

Here are at least three reasons to back up my claim:

  1. Leonel Capitano's sensitive, masterful yet restrained expression blends seamlessly with the orquesta in true Golden Age fashion.
  2. The band's choice of repertoire brings many forgotten tunes back to life that other bands overlook.
  3. While capable of impressing concert audiences with their technical skills, they've devoted this album to dancers and rarely veer off track.

Unfortunately, Cuarteto SolTango is not on Bandcamp. You can find them on Spotify and Apple Music. I bought my copy on iTunes (no link available).

So go get yours. Listen. Dance. Spread the word!

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