Review by Brad Walseth
The Old World meets the New, the past meets the present, and the results are unforgettable in this fascinating and highly satisfying collaboration between Rosamunde Quartet cellist Anja Lechner and 72 year old Tango Nuevo bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi. Ojos Negros continues a pairing that began when the cellist heard Saluzzi give a solo concert in Munich - an introduction that led to the respected Argentinean recording the well-received Kultrum with the Quartet in 1996 - and has led to several duo concerts together with Lechner in the subsequent years. Saluzzi has played with people like Charlie Haden, Gato Barbieri, Al DiMeola, Tomasz Stanko and Enrico Rava, but he has also been a prolific composer with a uniquely personal style and is considered to be one of the most important South American composers in modern times. Meanwhile, Lechner has been actively touring and recording as well, and has made a mark for herself playing modern string compositions - her 2004 duo recording with pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos - which presented music by mystic G.I Gurdjieff - was a surprise hit.
The bandoneon is a chromatic button accordion, and Saluzzi is a master bandoneonista, while Lechner is regarded as one of the finest cellists in the world. Yet, despite both parties "skills" which are featured in ample evidence, this recording is less a fireworks display than an atmospheric showplace both for the seamlessly subconscious dialogue between the two artists, as well as Saluzzi's compositional brilliance. All but one of the songs are the Argentinean's own, and they seem to be haunted by memories of bygone years filled with travels, ghosts and ruins. "Tango a Mi Padre" - a beautiful piece about Saluzzi's father (also a well-known musician and composer) opens the album in stunning form and the listener is instantly pulled into a world of fond memories and sighing regrets.
At times strictly composed, and others freely improvised, the songs are moved by the feelings of the two players themselves reacting to one another. "Minguito" pays tribute to a famous cinematic clown, while "Duetto" is a piece Saluzzi often played with his deceased brother, Celso. "Esquina" and "Serenata" recall times and places from the composer's childhood. Although tango elements are present - especially in the only non-original tune, the title track Vincente Greco's "Ojos Negros" (Dark Eyes), the music clearly transcends the genre. Floating freely in time - the exchanges of rubato passages transport the listener into a state of hypnotic awareness that approaches religious ecstasy.
This makes sense, since Saluzzi has a deep spiritual well to draw from. Mysterious and cosmic, yet utterly entrenched in the worldly ("Carretas" is indeed about oxcarts) "Ojos Negros" also focuses on Love - the love that comes flashing in black eyes and leads to pain and joy and remembrance. The listener must be forewarned: this is at times, haunting, often sad music. Not sad in bad sense of the word, more melancholy and contemplative: A taste of the bittersweet draught of life that refreshes even while filling you with longing for more.