by Ian Mann
August 31, 2022
Ian Mann enjoys TJQ's unique amalgam of Argentinian tango and American jazz.
Tango Jazz Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/08/2022.
Gustavo Firmenich – tenor sax & clarinet,
Santiago Villalba – piano
Martín Rao de Vita – electric bass
Mauricio Pasculli – drums
This evening marked a welcome return to Abergavenny for the Tango Jazz Quartet, a four piece band from Buenos Aires led by saxophonist and clarinettist Gustavo Firmenich.
TJQ first visited Black Mountain Jazz in 2016 when they appeared at that year’s Wall2Wall Jazz Festival during an extensive European tour. They were very well received and a strong relationship was forged with the band and with leader Firmenich in particular.
Review as part of my Festival coverage here;
In 2017 Firmenich returned to Abergavenny leading the fourteen piece Sotavento Big Band, who were also on tour in Europe. This was a very different line up and was fronted by Firmenich’s wife, singer Patricia Leguizamon. However the music still featured a blend of Argentinian tango and American jazz and once again the performance was very well received by the Abergavenny public.
Review here; https://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/sotavento-big-band-black-mountain-jazz-melville-centre-abergavenny-10-07-20
Firmenich is also an acclaimed jazz educator and also in 2017 he visited with the student band Orquesta de Monte, an ensemble closely linked with the educational establishment in the town of San Miguel de Monte, near Buenos Aires. This unit put a greater emphasis on Argentinian folk forms, although an American jazz element was also heard thanks to the inclusion of tunes associated with Art Blakey and Herbie Hancock. Review here;
TJQ then returned in 2019 to play at that year’s Wall2Wall and in 2020 were commissioned by BMJ to produce the excellent ninety minute film “Tango Meets Jazz” for the Wall2Wall Virtual Jazz Festival. The film was much more than just a streamed live performance and was a highly informative documentary that explored the historic links between Argentinian tango and American jazz and examined TJQ’s role in bringing its unique blend of the two musics to an international audience. As such it very much exceeded expectations and is reviewed here;
Tonight the “Tango Meets Jazz” film, complete with English subtitles, was being screened in the bar before the performance and it was good to catch some of it again.
TJQ is a band with a phenomenal work ethic. Tonight’s date was part of a massive European tour that will see the quartet playing a staggering thirty nine shows in just forty one days. They habitually tour in Europe during our summer (their winter) and even during lockdown regularly produced live performance videos from their studios in Buenos Aires.
TJQ’s previous visits to Abergavenny featured a line up of Firmenich, bassist Federico Hilal, drummer Alejandro Beelman and the outstanding pianist Horacio Acosta. The “Tango Meets Jazz” film introduced a fresh rhythm team in bassist Martín Rao de Vita and drummer Mauricio Pasculli, both present tonight alongside new pianist Santiago Villalba. The line up changes were initially caused by the family and work commitments of the former members, but under Firmenich’s leadership the current crop of talented young musicians have quickly gelled into a highly accomplished unit, more than capable of generating that unmistakable TJQ sound.
As jazz journalist Nigel Jarrett pointed out during his introduction to TJQ’s 2019 Wall2Wall performance tango is rarely played in the 4/4 time signature associated with jazz and other Western popular music. Thus the meters and rhythms of tango can initially feel unfamiliar or unsettling to European and US audiences and it can take the listener a little while to acclimatise themselves with TJQ’s sound. As this was my third exposure to TJQ’s music in a live setting, and not forgetting the visits by Sotavento and Orquesta de Monte, I found myself getting into it much more quickly this time round, which helped to enhance my enjoyment of the event.
As I have explained in previous Firmenich related reviews he’s not the most fluent of English speakers and my Spanish is non existent so I’m not going to attempt a tune by tune account but instead try to give an overall impression of the performance.
The current edition of TJQ continue to mix tango and jazz influences, some pieces having a conspicuous jazz feel, others more obviously rooted in tango and Argentinian folk music.
The ‘jazz’ pieces provided more scope for improvisation and allowed the band members room to stretch out and to solo in the jazz manner. In this respect this was probably the best performance I’ve seen yet from Firmenich who played with great fluency on both saxophone and clarinet, his most expansive, jazz influenced solos being delivered on the tenor.
I was also impressed with Villalba, a less flamboyant soloist than Acosta but nevertheless a highly accomplished and imaginative one. He also benefited from having the use of the Melville’s upright acoustic piano, which sounded so much better than an electric, and even more so for this style of music.
Bassist de Vita played a five string electric model and delivered several liquidly melodic solos as well as handling the complex rhythmic demands of TJQ’s distinctive tango / jazz amalgam
de Vita formed an effective rhythm partnership with Pasculli who produced an impressive variety of sounds from a very small drum kit (snare, bass drum, hi-hat, ride cymbal). In the context of TJQ’s music this combination of instruments delivered everything that was needed and his playing was crisp, subtle and gently propulsive. An extended unaccompanied drum feature during the second set was largely performed with bare hands and was both skilfully constructed and hugely absorbing for the listener.
Preceding the gig the band had conducted a tango workshop for instrumentalists and vocalists and the beginning of the second set saw TJQ joined by some of their ‘students’ to perform “Flor de Lino”, an Argentinian folk song that they had worked on in the afternoon. Beside the members of TJQ the ensemble included BMJ’s own Debs Hancock on vocals, Jack Tait on soprano sax, Rod Cunningham of the Monmouth Big Band on baritone sax and thirteen year old twins Erin Morgan (violin) and Kiera Morgan (cello). Hancock featured on wordless vocals while Tait was featured in a duet with Firmenich, the latter playing clarinet, and also took his own solo. Cunningham, the most experienced of the instrumentalists, featured on baritone while the ensemble’s youngest members, Erin and Kiera, excelled on violin and cello respectively. These young local musicians are already highly talented players. Well done to them and to all the other members of the ‘Tango Workshop Band’.
Of the material played by TJQ themselves the only tune I could readily identify was Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango” which ended the evening. A highly enjoyable performance nevertheless and for me the pick of TJQ’s three appearances to date at BMJ. A pleasingly sizeable audience of around fifty or so seemed to agree and gave the band an excellent reception. The enthusiasm of the crowd helped to turn the evening into an ‘event’, which is always beneficial for the music. I think the organisers were pleased with the turn out too.
It was also good to meet the members of the band and particularly those making their visit to Abergavenny. Let’s hope that the rest of their tour is a great success. The remaining dates are listed below;
Gira Internacional XXVIII International Tour
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1.9 Ardour Academy, Cardiff, Gales
2.9 The Bear Jazz Club, Luton, Inglaterra
3.9 Matt & Phreds Jazz CLub, Manchester, Inglaterra
4.9 The Globe Jazz Club, Newcastle, Inglaterra
5.9 The Bell Inn Jazz Club, Bath, Inglaterra
6.9 Embajada Argentina en UK, Londres, Inglaterra
7.9. Aloft Hotel Palace Jean ReyBrussels, Belgica
8.9 Embajada Argenttina en Berna, Suiza
12.9 La Bóveda del Albergue, Zaragoza, España
13.9 La Bóveda del Albergue, Zaragoza, España
14.9 Dino’s Bar, Sitges, España
15.9 Abuela Herminia, Barcelona, España
15.9 Eshavira Flamenco y Jazz club, Granada, España
17.9 Centro Arte Moderno, Madrid, España
18.9 Villamanta, Madrid, España
19.9 Bam Cases, Dives sur Mer, Francia
20.9 Conservatory Oostende, Belgica
21.9 Be Nuts, Bruselas, Belgica
22.9 Consulado Argentino, Bonn, Alemania
23.9 Crommelynck athenee royal, Bruselas, Belgica
24.9 Sunset Sunside jazz club, Paris, Francia
25.9 648 music club, Marcellaz, Francia
More at http://www.tangojazzquartet.com