The Tango Saloon

  • The Tango Saloon
  • Ipecac
  • 2006-04-17

Joining the Gotan project (who also have a new release this month) in modern reworkings of the traditional model, The Tango Saloon are an up-to-fifteen-strong troupe of Tango enthusiasts from Sydney, Australia and this Ipecac-released self-titled album is their first major statement to the World. Not only does it look typically Ipecac with its graphic title front cover courtesy of designer Martin Kvamme, who has also designed the sleeves for Tomahawk, General Patton Vs The Executioners, Fantomas and more, but it is just pure Ipecac in sound and idea with its genre busting, obscure, experimental nature and its strong jazz and Ennio Morricone influence.

The band is normally a line-up of between five and eight in its live form (all dressed as cowboys, I should point out) but here the songs contain anything between one and fifteen members, with a variety of instrumentation — bass guitar, bongos, accordian, tuba to name only a few, plus a guest vocalist at points and even big synth lines, all led by guitarist and frontman Julian Curwin.

“March of the Big Shoe” is espionage-Tango with its saxophone melodies and tip-toeing basslines.

Overall there’s a huge range on offer here as different genres and styles get thrown in to distort and transfer the Tango into such strange lands as twenties-jazz, classical, improv and the terrain of the Spaghetti Western. Tango is by nature an upbeat and uplifting style of music and so most of the songs here reflect that but thats not to say its all party party party dance dance dance. The opening track “Overture” offers an almost pensive minimal introduction, layered up by Curwin on guitar and other string instruments and the following “Tango Saloon 1” is similarly minimal and relective, concentrating on the subtle interplays of the different instrumentation and creating a relaxing mood. It is with the third track “Upon A Time” that the violins, piano and accordian really start to rouse into a more common, danceable Tango style, but the track moves around, seeming to tell a story, and trying to dance throughout would not be easy. The rest of the album reflects these changeable moods, more traditional Tango can be found on the two covers of Tango master Astor Piazolla, “Libertango” with its emotive and effective quite Jeff-Buckley-esque vocals, and “La Calle 92” with its very traditional feel. “March of the Big Shoe” is espionage-Tango with its saxophone melodies and tip-toeing basslines, and a similar mood is created by the piano and brass of “Scusi”. “The Little Plan That Could” has a jolly circus mood and vocals as instruments. “Carol” moves from almost middle-Eastern-sounding strings, modern classical noise and jazz breakdowns into a percussive coda which could have its origins in the aboriginal or alternatively Indian tabla styles. “Intermission”’s accordian gives a distinctly French feel and the awesome “Man With The Bongos” goes crazily through avant-rock and experimental electronics into a scene straight out of A Fistful Of Dollars as composed by Ennio Morricone. Much of the album has a soundtrack feel which also comes out through the fact that much of the album feels pared down — not always in instrumentation and certainly not in terms of ideas but more by the overall mood and style. Sometimes the tracks are very interesting to listen to but stay dissapointingly reserved — they would work perfectly accompanying a film or in the live show (where various ‘shows’ have apparently taken place — such as a coreographed saloon-fight dance) but don’t do as much as you might want, especially knowing just how great the band can be when they get properly upbeat or go crazy.

Much of the album has a soundtrack feel.

This is a fascinating album proving how you can always trust the team at Ipecac to deliver some strange, exotic, hybrid discovery to please your ears and stimulate your mind. The Tango Saloon is not just a fantastic new take on Tango but a fantastic statement about the modern world, where a bunch of Australians, dressed as Cowboys, play music influenced by European and South American styles, with hints of their domestic country’s musical history, Eastern influence and a major feeling for certain Italian composers — partucularly one made most famous by soundtracking Italian versions of American films filmed in Spain. Fantastic.

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