Monday, May 19, 2014

So that's why "Poema" is hard to fit into a tanda...

Most of of the practicing and aspiring DJs must have noticed that Canaro-Maida's superb (and much overplayed) 1935 "Poema" doesn't quite fit seamlessly into tandas. "Poema" is quite singular in its gently melancholic, softly nostalgic flow, while other Canaro's hits of the period tend to be more insistent and dramatic in quality, energetically driving rather than softly soothing.

One can't help noticing a few more peculiarities about this hit. Its popularity peaks overseas, especially in Europe, and reaches the low point in Buenos Aires. And no other orchestras in Argentine recorded the piece. 

Thanks to German Nemoljakin's constant flow of stories from tango's past, I got an intriguing glimpse of Poema's special history, and couldn't resist digging deeper into it. To sum it up:

The beautiful "Poema" isn't quite an Argentine tango, it is as much a European tango, composed by the expat musicians who were singularly successful in transplanting tango to the musical scene of Paris.
Furthermore, Poema's lack of acceptance in Buenos Aires wasn't helped by the dark political undertones of its story, and the fact that its lyrics are a thinly veiled confession of a banished murderer.

"Poema" is undoubtedly the best composition of Eduardo Bianco, an Argentine who lived in Europe for nearly 20 years, and who mastered the art of making the tango of Argentina sound the Parisian way. The oft-retold story says that Bianco and Mario Melfi, aided by others in their band, composed it on a train during a 1932 tour of Germany. What is rarely mentioned is that Bianco's lyrics tell his personal, and thoroughly suppressed, story from his final year in Buenos Aires. In 1924, Eduardo Bianco played the first violin in the orchestra of the famous Teatro Apolo at Avenida Corrientes. Bianco learned that his wife cheated on him with the pianist of the orchestra, and shot his rival to death in a fit of jealousy. As translated into English by Alberto Paz, Bianco's stanzas tell us how a dream of sweet love ended up awakening the heart's monsters, the chimeras which can never be fully grasped; the words "intenso mal" which Alberto Paz translated as "intense misfortune" may be better interpreted as "overpowering evil":

...You'll remember my love,
and you will come to know 
all my intense misfortune.

Of that one intoxicating poem,
nothing is left between us,
I say my sad goodbye,
you'll feel the emotion
of my pain…

Eduardo Bianco was jailed and tried for murder, and acquitted - according to Jose Maria Otero, owing to political connections of Bianco's influential rich friend, Martin "Macoco" Álzaga Unzué, a race driver, bon vivant, and night club owner whose circle included top entertainers, aristocrats, and mobsters. But the acquitted violinist had to leave Argentina. Soon, he sailed for France.

In Paris, Bianco with the bandoneonist Juan Bautista Deambroggio "Bachicha" assembled Orquesta Tipica Bianco-Bachicha, which started to play in the downstairs cabaret of the famed Argentine-themed Montmartre boîte, "El Garron", and toured Europe, the Americas, and Middle East. He continued cultivating relationships with the rich and powerful, even dedicating his tango compositions to kings and queens, and (twice) to Benito Mussolini, and boasting of praise from Stalin and Hitler. It was the 1926 "Plegaria", dedicated to Spanish king Alfonso XIII, "symbol of Spanish democracy" (who fled after the electoral victory of the Republicans, and supported Franco with the outbreak of Spanish Civil War) , which brought Bianco most infamy.

The most detailed account of Bianco's European years has been provided in Enrique Cadícamo's 1975 "La Historia Del Tango En Paris" (and summarized in a recent El Litoral article). Cadícamo, who toured Europe with Gardel, advised his tango friends to avoid discussing politics with Eduardo Bianco because Bianco supposedly informed for Gestapo (the French police detained and investigated him in 1937, but released him). Bianco associated himself with Eduardo Labougle Carranza, Argentine ambassador in the Third Reich Berlin and an avowed antisemite. They supposedly convinced Goebbels that tango should take place of the "racially tainted" Jazz music, and were invited to perform in Berlin's "La scala".  Then, at an Argentine asado reception at the Embassy, Bianco's orchestra got to entertain Hitler himself (even with a bandoneon player personally grilling meats for him), and the fuhrer asked for an encore performance of "Plegaria" ("Prayer" in Spanish). The sentimental monster must have enjoyed the play between the solemn sound of the piece and the frivolous, erotic perception of the word "tango", because soon, he found a horrible use for Bianco's score. In a short time, "Plegaria" would be dubbed "Tango of Death", as the Auschwitz prisoner band was ordered to play it when the camp prisoners were led to the gas chambers. The horror of "Tango of Death" has been immortalized in the verses of Paul Celan, a Jewish Romanian death camp survivor; but Celan had to strike any reference to "tango" when he translated his poem from Romanian to German, because "tango" still sounded disrespectfully racy in German. So "Plegaria" turned into "Todesfuge", "The Death Fugue"!

(A personal side note here ... this is how I got to understand another allusion in Psoy Korolenko's "Ilimsky Ostrog", an amalgamation of quotes and allusions of three centuries of Russian and foreign classic poetry, folk song, pop and rock, where peeling off the layers of meaning never ends ... "Meine Todesfuge" is heard near 4:55 in this concert record)

 The WWII broke out, and Ambassador Labougle returned to Argentina to champion the cause of South American neutrality in the war, the cause which must have been largely anti-American and anti-Brazilian, rather than pro-Axis, in Argentina, since it traditionally allied itself with Great Britain, its main export market, and, after the Great Depression-era unfair trade treaties went into effect, also Argentina's main supplier of manufactured goods. The United States, in the meantime, practiced the ideology of continental domination, the Manifest Destiny, and armed Argentina's regional arch-rival, Brazil. Although truth be said, Argentine leaders sought to emulate many aspects of the Axis, from nationalist fervor to regional expansion plans (Argentina even covertly installed a friendly, pro-fascist government in Bolivia in a 1943 coup). But time was running out for the open sympathizers of the Reich, and in January 1944, Argentina had to break relations with Nazi Germany (although it didn't declare war until a year later). In the meantime, Bianco played across occupied Europe for the Nazi troops, and on the Third Reich radio stations. As it's become clear that Argentina will sever relations with the Reich soon, he left on a Spanish visa from King Alfonso's times, and faced a lengthy investigation by the British intelligence services - Bianco himself wrote that he was only cleared owing to his investigator's appreciation of the music of tango. He finally returned to Buenos Aires in 1943, at the peak of Tango's Golden age, amid insane richness of tango orchestras. Bianco tried hard but has never succeeded in competing against the local talent; his remained a purely export version of Argentine tango.

Before we return to 1935, and to Canaro, let me mention that "Poema" has been recorded by one more Parisian band, the Orquesta Tipica Auguste-Jean Pesenti du Coliseum de Paris (A.-J. Pesenti was a bandoneonist from Colombia known to us largely owing to the Japanese collectors; in fact pre-WWII tango dancers and listeners in Japan played French tango records of Bianco, Bachicha, Pizzarro, and others, and generally believed that tango was a genre of French music)

Canaro, of course, also famously chose Paris to be his base after 1925 (embarking on tours to New York, Berlin, Hamburg, and Madrid, and to a family roots discovery trip to Italy, from France). Sometimes people say that Canaro stayed abroad for a whole decade, and supposedly didn't make a comeback to Buenos Aires until 1935! Technically, it's very untrue, and yet in terms of Francisco Canaro's legacy and influence, it may be true that the decade between 1925 and 1934 was the low-key part of his tango carrier. He tried diversifying into other genres - rancheras, maxixe, foxtrot, jazz, and even recorded such Americana pieces as "Red Red Robin" as "Francisco Canaro Jazz Band". He toured the provincial towns, played a lot for the radio stations, launched a series of comedy musicals, and appeared in a movie with Gardel, all to regain his fame and to secure the grand dance halls of BsAs for himself again. Perhaps it was the chilling effect of the Great Depression on the porteno party scene. Or Canaro's affiliation with the recording company Nacional Odeon, which pitted him against the more prominent RCA Victor. Or it could have been the continuing echo from yet another fatal gunshot story which may have played a role in Canaro's departure to Paris in the first place.

This is a story which began almost exactly 100 years ago, in September 1914. Francisco Canaro's lucky break into the ranks of most-listened-to tango orchestras was catalyzed by his invitation to highlight Primero Baile del Internado, the First Ball of Medical Interns, which marked the end of the spring break in the School of Medicine. The interns of Buenos Aires found their inspiration in Paris, in traditional medical students Bal de L’Internat held at Bullier Hall. To this rancorous celebration at the famous Palais de Glace, Canaro premiered a tango titled Matasano, "The Slayer of the Healthy" (as the medical students were humorously called), dedicated to Hospital Durand in Caballito neighborhood. The following year, Canaro premiered tango "El Internado", "The Intern", at the Intern's Ball.

The tradition continued for 11 years, with many pranks and with tango titles such as "Aqui se vacuna" ("Immunizations shots here", dedicated to Public Health Office), "Anatomia", "Cloroformo", "El termómetro", "La biblioteca" ("The Medical Library"), "Hospital Durand", "Mano Brava" and "Qué
muñeca" (dedicated to outstanding surgeons' hands), "La inyección" and "El microbio" (continued with tangos about specific pathogens, "El dengue" and "Ae. Aegypti"), even "Paraiso Artificial" ("Artificial Paradise",  a tango cancion about morphine). The tango which premiered in 1924 was titled "El once: el divertismento" - "The 11th: let's have fun".
But soon after the 1924 celebration, the medical students took part in a prank gone horribly wrong, and an intern Ernesto O’Farrel was shot and killed by an administrator at Hospital Piñero, triggering a physician strike at all municipal hospitals. The Baile del Internado was never held again. And Canaro's memoirs mourn the things tango lost after 1924...

Yet Canaro's tango also gained from being exposed to the music of the European expats, and he kept returning to the scores from Paris, starting from a 1928 recording, with Charlo, of "Bandoneón arrabalero", a tango Canaro re-recorded several times. The 1925 score is signed by Juan Bautista Deambrogio Bachicha himself, although Enrique Cadícamo says in “La historia del tango en París” that it was Horacio Petorossi, a guitar player in Bianchi-Bachicha orchestra, who sold the score to Bachicha for a thousand franks. The 1935 recording of Bianco's Poema continued the trend of cross-fertilization of Parisian and BsAs tango music, but failed to impress the listeners in Argentina. Yet you can understand now how it struck a chord with the European tangueros of the generation of the Great Worldwide Tango Rebirth!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Practica Del Centro playlist, 5/12/14

With the parallel - but earlier in the evening - Heritage Center practica, Del Centro now comes to live only about a dozen tracks down the playlist, after the tangueros from the University join in. So for the after-class warm-up, I started with the instrumental favorites - the more rhythmical pieces of Di Sarli and Fresedo & I still don't know how this selection would have worked with a larger, more varied crowd. 
01. Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental  "Shusheta" 1940 2:22
02. Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental  "Catamarca" 1940 2:23
03. Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental  "La trilla" 1940 2:21
04. Osvaldo Fresedo - Instrumental  "Arrabalero" 1939 2:32
05. Osvaldo Fresedo - Instrumental  "Pimienta" 1939 2:52
06. Osvaldo Fresedo - Instrumental  "Derecho viejo" 1941 2:31
07. Rodolfo Biag Jorge Ortíz "Lagrimas Y Sonrisas (vals)"  2:41
08. Rodolfo Biagi Jorge Ortíz "Pajaro Herido (vals)" 1999 2:18
09. Rodolfo Biagi - Jorge Ortiz  "Cuatro palabras (vals)" 1941 2:20
10. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno  "Tango argentino" 1942 2:37
11. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno  "El encopao" 1942 2:34
12. Enrique Rodríguez "Como has cambiado pebeta" 2:37
Quinteto Don Pancho (from todotango site where
I could no longer find it after the site overhaul...)
Canaro's Quintets existed alongside with his main, large Orquesta Tipica (and, occasionally, a couple more "Canaro orchestras" led by Francisco's brothers). Unlike the Tipica's, the Quintets never played live for the dancers - they worked for recording studios and for the radio. Very talented musicians, very slick, shiny quality of the music, it feels strangely modern, perhaps because modern classic tango bands usually have few musicians too? But these records are all from the 1930s! 
El Pirincho (Guira guira)
Quinteto Don Pancho was the first of the two Canaro Quintets (after 1940, followed by Quinteto Pirincho). Both bands were sort of named after their creator, but without spelling out "Francisco Canaro" ("Don Pancho" would have been a nickname for Francisco in Spain, and "Pirincho" was Francisco Canaro's actual nickname in Uruguay and Argentina, given to him at birth by a midwife who was amused by the newborn's cute little tuft of hair, and compared it to a crest of feathers of a local bird, el pirincho). Quinteto Pirincho recorded a lot more than the earlier, and lesser known, Quinteto Don Pancho; in fact two of the three tracks below were mis-attributed to Quinteto Pirincho in the files' metadata.
13. Quinteto Don Pancho - Francisco Canaro "Champagne tango" 1938 2:30
14. Quinteto Don Pancho - Francisco Canaro "El garron" 1938 2:27
15. Quinteto Don Pancho - "El flete" 1939 2:55
Another shot at a milonga tanda with "Ella Es Asi":
16. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos  "Sacale punta" 1938 2:16
17. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos  "De punta a punta (milonga)" 1939 2:21
18. Edgardo Donato  "Ella Es Asi - milonga" 2005 2:35
19. Ricardo Tanturi - Alberto Castillo  "Así Se Baila El Tango"  2:34
20. Ricardo Tanturi  "Que Nunca Me Falte"  2:42
21. "Ricardo Tanturi - Enrique Campos / Oigo Tu Voz" 3:07
22. Miguel Caló - Raúl Berón  "Corazón no le hagas caso" 1942 3:00
23. "Miguel Caló - Raúl Berón / Jamas Retornaras" 2:31
24. Miguel Calo - Raul Beron  "Que te importa que te llore" 1942 2:44
25. Angel D'Agostino - Angel Vargas "Esquinas porteñas 1942 (Vals)" 2:51
26. D'Agostino, A. Vargas "Tristeza Criolla" 1945 2:28
27. Angel D'Agostino - Angel Vargas  "Que me pasara (vals)" 1941 2:29
Now it was time for Irina's melodic, dramatic favs, and I didn't realize until later that the two sets below, classic Di Sarli and classic Laurenz, were united by the same vocalist, Alberto Podestá :) Alberto Podestá started singing tango with the famous Golden Age orchestras as a teenager, first with Caló and then with Di Sarli and Laurenz (It was Carlos Di Sarli who gave him his artistic name, and predicted to him a long singing career). Di Sarli was right, Alberto still sings in Buenos Aires at the age of 89. Two years ago he even visited Tango Element Festival in Baltimore and sang there with the band of Alex Krebs!
28. Carlos Di Sarli Alberto Podestá  "Junto a tu corazon"  3:00
29. Carlos Di Sarli Alberto Podestá "Nada"  2:45
30. Carlos Di Sarli - Alberto Podestá  "Lloran las campanas" 1944 2:58
31. Pedro Laurenz - Alberto Podestá  "Garua" 1943 3:09
32. Pedro Laurenz - Alberto Podestá  "Todo" 1943 2:37
33. Pedro Laurenz - Alberto Podestá  "Recien" 1943 2:43
34. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida  "Larga las penas" 1935 3:09
35. Francisco Canaro - Instrumental  "Milonga de mis amores" 1937-05-26 3:03
36. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida  "Milonga brava" 1938-06-20 2:37
These three Krebs records turned out to be a DJ's disappointment. I got excited by their super-grounded, almost underworld-ish vibe, but I forgot about strange noisy sections at the end of these tracks. Alas!
37. New York Tango Jam Session  "Duelo Criollo -- old school" 2010 2:29
38. New York Tango Jam Session  "Triste Destino -- old school" 2010 3:31
39. New York Tango Jam Session  "Ventarron -- old school" 2010 2:49
I haven't played from Donato's earlier, playfu and rhythmic period before. Liked the first two out of this trio, but the last one sounded weaker...:
40. Edgardo Donato  "El Acomodo" 2:27
41. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos  "Gato" 1937 2:42
42. Edgardo Donato  "Tierrita" 3:19
Alberto Podestá again, now with the orchestra he started his career with at 16, and to which he kept returning for over 30 years. "Bajo un cielo de estrellas" was his very first record (and the one Podestá counted among his best hits). The young singer performed then under an assumed name of Juan Carlos Morel - he would become Alberto Podestá only a year later, rather unimaginatively rechristened by Di Sarli (Podestá was his mother's family name so the young singer's real full official name was Alejandro Washington Podestá Alé; he mentioned to Carlos Di Sarli that there are already renowned musicians by the same name, such as a tango singer Martín Podestá, but was told not to worry, that he'll eclipse them all :) ).
43. Miguel Calo - Alberto Podesta  "Bajo un cielo de estrellas (vals)" 1941 2:37
44. Miguel Caló - Raúl Berón  "El vals soñador" 1942 3:32
45. Miguel Calo - Alberto Podesta  "Pedacito de cielo (vals)" 1942 2:21
Another Quintet, and a more complex but again, classic and at the same time intriguingly modern sound. It dates to the 1960s "dark years" of Argentine Tango, and owes its existence to the continued love of tango among some of its most talented musicians (and to the continued infatuation of Japan with the Argentine Tango, because it was the tours of Japan which helped the tango musicians survive the 1960s) . The tango titans such as Pedro Láurenz, Horacio Salgán, Enrique Francini performed together as Quinteto Real and, later, Láurenz convened his own quintet (which included Jose Colangelo, piano, and Eduardo Walczak, violin). The following tracks are from their 1969 album, "Pedro Láurenz interpreta a Pedro Láurenz"
46. Pedro Láurenz - Instrumental  "De puro guapo" 1966 2:48
47. Pedro Láurenz - Instrumental  "Orgullo criollo" 1966 2:57
48. Pedro Láurenz - Instrumental  "Mal de amores" 1966 3:16
Aces de Candombe tanda! You may remember how, a couple months ago, I wrote how hard it might be to put together an Enrique Rodriguez milonga tanda (and I got away, then, by playing a tanda of tangofox). Here is a different idea: Rodriguez recorded one of the most memorable milonga candombes of all times, the 1943 Tucu-Tun. It's one of those records which are so good and so special, it may be hard to find them a proper match in a tanda. Rodriguez recorded another notable candombe milonga, "La rumbita candombé";  Bernhard Gehberger suggested adding late Rodriguez records, Tamboriles & Color Punzo, while Tangology 101 suggests Demare's Carnavalito and Troilo's "Papá Baltasar";  for my set, I add two more records by different orchestras (I thought of Canaro's "Candombe criollo", too, but nothing makes a truly satisfying match. Any better thoughts?)
49. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno  "El tucu-tun" 1943 2:34
50. Osvaldo Fresedo - Oscar Serpa  "La rumbita candombé" 1943 2:34
51. Miguel Caló - Raúl Berón  "Azabache" 1942 3:05
And now the time is running out & the sets are getting shorter and shorter :)
52. Donato, Edgardo Various Artists "La Melodía Del Corazón" 1940 3:18
53. Donato, Edgardo  "El Adios" 1938 3:09
54. Alfredo de Angelis - Instrumental  "Mi dolor" 1957 2:51
55. Alfredo De Angelis  "Felicia 1969"  2:48
56. Osváldo Pugliese Osvaldo Pugliese "Farol" 1943 3:22
57. Osváldo Pugliese "Rondando Tu Esquina" 1945 2:49
The Cumparsita is a different kind of Pedro Laurenz, one of his earliest surviving records, of a bandoneon duet with the legendary Pedro Maffia. "The lad from Flores" Maffia played bandoneon like no one else - he truly revolutionized not just bandoneon playing, but the tango music in general. Pedro Maffia, famed for the rich, complex, dark voice of his instrument, became, in 1924, the first bandoneonist of Julio De Caro's Sextet,  and one of the leaders of the Decaroist movement in tango music, which transformed tango beyond the simplicity and boastfulness of the original Old Guard. Pedro Láurenz joined De Caro's orchestra the following year, in 1925, and over the next couple years, the two great bandoneon players also recorded about a dozens tangos in a duet. The tango records of the mid-1920s tend to be affected by poor record quality ( the first electric records appeared in Argentina only after 1926). This Cumparsita may be a great exception.
58. Pedro Láurenz y Pedro Maffia  "La cumparsita" 1926 3:01
Both post-Cumparsita tracks are Russian, from two very different epochs. "Nau", as they were called, were the pioneers of the Russian rock bloom of the 1980s. "Good-buy America", a bossa nova-tinged 1985 composition originally titled "The last letter" but better known for the line of its refrain, has become a sort of a generational anthem song. Although back in the 80s, few us could have thought that its theme of disillusionment about American culture would fit so well to Russia's 2010's... Danceability of "Good-buy America" is a source of perennial contention among Russian tangueros, but you know my opinion on this matter, right?
59. Nautilus Pompilius - V. Butusov "Good-buy America" 1988 3:38
Eddie Rosner's is one of the many tragic stories of Russian tango. The best jazz trumpet player of all Europe in his teens and early twenties, he fled Berlin, his birthplace, in 1933 to his Jewish parents' homeland of Poland, and discarded his birth name, Adolph, for Eddie. In 1939, escape from the Nazi bombing raids lead him from Warsaw to Belostok, which was soon absorbed into the USSR as a part of Western Belorussia. Eddie Rosner hardly spoke any Russian, but the circumstances made him one of the leaders of Russian jazz and swing. After the war, he attempted to return to Poland but was stopped and sent to Gulag for this "subversive act of attempted emigration". In the dreaded labor camps of Kolyma, Rosner survived as a prison band musician, eventually loosing his teeth to scurvy and re-learning to play trumpet with dentures. In 1954, he was set "free" and organized the Big Band of his dreams, but he was never allowed to go to Poland - or to the US to visit those relatives who survived the Holocaust. As the chill of the Cold War thickened, Eddie was blacklisted again, and confined to a provincial town in Belarus, until the authorities finally allowed him to return to (Western) Berlin to die. 
To record this tango, his best known, Rosner's largely Polish and Jewish band was assigned a great Russian singer, "lest Polish accent seeps into the sound of Russian tango music"; Eddie is said to have been really happy to work with a jazz-singer of such talent.
60. Eddie Rosner - Georgy Vinogradov "Zachem" 1944 3:11