If the world of Argentinean music epitomised by its (Argentina’s) sensual tango was propelled into the future by Alberto Ginastera, Osvaldo Pugliese, Lalo Schifrin, Horacio Salgán, Aníbal Troilol and Astor Piazolla to name but a few, it is being kept on course by a tribe of living torchbearers – Pablo Zeigler, Carlos Franzetti, Pablo Aslan and the young Pedro Giraudo (also to name a few). While most musicians – if not all have set their sights on re-examining Mr Piazolla’s nuevo tango – it seems that Zeigler and Mr Franzetti have dared to plough their creative furrows further afield from the tango form, as well as melding the dance not only with other traditional and contemporary dance forms, as well as with other forms and styles of classical music.
Mr Aslan’s exquisite Contrabajo – Works for Bass and String Quartet is one of a recent series of releases that dwells in that vast domain where borders are not simply blurred, but also begin to disappear. First of all there is a heroic attempt to recreate a new kind of repertoire for a string quintet that – except for one song; a tango at that – completely eschews the use of Argentina’s national musical instrument – the bandoneon, which is played by Raúl Jaurena, a great player who plays on “La Cumparsita” with a noble elegance. And while another track “Tanguajira” features the iconic Cuban clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera – most appropriately so because Mr D’Rivera is renowned for his mash-ups of form and style – all the rest of the repertoire features the brilliant string quartet, Cuarteto Petrus augmenting the deep gravity of Mr Aslan’s contrabass.
Two (other) aspects of this disc also emerge as highlights. The first is Mr Aslan’s musicianship on Contrabajo – Works for Bass and String Quartet. Clearly he is an artist of the first order; a virtuoso instrumentalist who transforms the rather large contrabass into a string instrument as pliable as the violin – the smallest string instrument of its class. He does so with technique that is absolutely flawless whether he is playing con arco or pizzicato; this despite the fact that an Argentinean contrabass player seems to gravitate naturally towards the former style of playing. A natural result is that characteristic skills such as expression and emotion are effortlessly transferred from the bow to the fingers. The most sublime display of this may be heard on Duke Ellington’s exquisite composition “Come Sunday”; the profoundly emotional and spiritual depth of the piece lending itself easily to Mr Aslan’s great virtuosity.
The other – more important from the point of view of the disc’s raison d’être – is the repertoire, beautifully conceived by Gabriel Senanes, the principal arranger on most of the tracks. The works are arranged explicitly for Mr Aslan and bear his individual stamp as he works to diffuse the sensuousness of the beloved tango into other musical forms characterised by the application of a broad range of harmonic and rhythmic forms such as syncopation. But make no mistake; Mr Aslan is fully in tune with what Mr Senanes is writing for in the classical sense. He (the writer) borrows aspects such as tempo and complicated dramatic counterpoint and then proceeds to develop these techniques and gestures through elaborate sonority far removed from the decorous formality of their purely classical counterparts.
These works by Pablo Aslan and Cuarteto Petrus find a near-ideal balance between unbridled emotional commitment and technical control. The performances are spontaneous, inventive and daring, yet the players refrain from unnecessarily milking the tango’s every dramatic moment. The excellent recorded sound completes the outstanding aspect of this set.
Track list – 1: Preludio No. 1; 2: Confluencias; 3: Reflejos; 4: Tanguajira; 5: Te Extraño Buenos Aires; 6: Come Sunday; 7: Tango para Cuerdas; 8: Contratango; 9: Riendo Suelto; 10: La Cumparsita
Personnel – Pablo Aslan: contrabass; Cuarteto Petrus – Pablo Saravi: violin; Hernán Briático: violin; Adrián Felizia: viola; Gloria Pankaeva: violoncello; Special Guests – Paquito D’Rivera: clarinet (4); Raúl Jaurena: bandoneon (10)
Released – 2019
Label – Soundbrush Records (SR 1040)
Runtime – 53:47