Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wine appreciation

For all you oenophiles out there, let me give you an interesting (and vastly simplified - I am no expert) analogy.

When you first learn to appreciate wine, you are doing a good job if you can distinguish between what is a red and what is a white wine (don't laugh, there may be some individuals out there having trouble with the definition of the word "Wine").

Somewhere down the line, you will have learn about the different grapes used in the making of wine, and about the different wine regions of the world. You will have to learn about how to taste the wine, what glasses are appropriate, what foods go with what wines. You will have to learn about the process of wine-making. Later, you will have to learn about the different wine producers, and the difference vintage makes.

For the real hardcore wine aficionados, for whom intense and passionate love of wine has driven insane, wine knowledge is not complete until one has traveled to wine making destinations, visited and conversed with wine makers, immersed oneself in the terroir, and crumbled and felt the soil among the vines with one's own bare hands.

This analogy can be carried over into any obsessive pursuit of a passion, be it Motorbikes, Stamps, Cheese, Beanie Babies, Garden Gnomes etc. - the list is endless.

Tango music appreciation goes down a similar path. Most start off their journey by clearing space on their shelf for their three prized tango movie soundtrack CDs. Then there is the acquisition of more CDs (usually some nice and loud Pugliese) and listening to free tango music on the internet while washing the dishes or doing some other kind of housework.

Then, as tango music and tango takes hold on your life, there's the acquisition of even more CDs (maybe some Di Sarli or D'Arienzo!) and tango music in the car - can't listen to the radio anymore. Somewhere down the line, you start to differentiate between different orchestras, different singers and a lucky few can perhaps even name some of the tracks!

At this point in time, some people even become (gasp) professional DJs!

Well, I am not a professional DJ (not even an amateur DJ) - I am merely embryonic when it comes to tango music appreciation. But I love tango music and I want to know as much as I can about it, and how to make playlists that are enjoyable to listen and dance to.

I was very fortunate recently to get the kind and generous advice of friend and fellow tango writer and blogger Janis Kenyon (she's been going to the milongas, listening to the music and talking to the milongueros and DJs of Buenos Aires for years - and I can always rely on what she says because she is one of those rare people who always tell it as it is - Thanks Janis!) on how to structure my tandas. She pointed out to me that it was not necessary to have just instrumentals from one orchestra or just one singer in a tanda.

What is very important, however, is to keep all the music in a tanda from the same era - and by that, Janis means SAME YEAR.

My tango music collection has been reworked and reorganized to no end already. I started out sorting by album. But that was not efficient in finding tracks, so I ripped them into mp3 format and started sorting by orchestra. Then I had to rename all the tracks to include information on the singer, because well, that's kind of important too.

I was too lazy to put in the year before, preferring rely on my own "superior innate ear for the music" (ha! Lots of people think they have this superpower, but do they really? I know I don't), and now I have to go over all my tracks and insert painstakingly, by hand, information on the year. Not only is this excruciatingly slow, I have also encountered lots of "WTF" moments - as in, "WTF, all the tracks on my Reliquias CDs HAVE NO INFORMATION ON THE YEAR - what am I supposed to do, consult the Magic-8 Ball?"

I have only completed this work on a few of the orchestras in my collection - but it is totally worth it. Suddenly, a pattern is starting to emerge - listening to the tracks grouped by year really shows you the development of each orchestra's music. And arranging them on the playlist by year truly produces the best, consistent sounding tandas.

Yes, organizing the music is a pain, doing mindless research on the music and its history is a pain, but it why shouldn't it be important to do as much as possible to learn as much as possible about the music that you love so passionately (and want to DJ for the masses)? If you are truly serious, somewhere on your journey of tango music appreciation you have to learn spanish, travel down to Buenos Aires and really listen to the music at the different milongas, maybe even talk to a few Buenos Aires DJs and milongueros who have been immersed in the music forever and certainly know a heck of a lot more about the music than you think you do.

Here's my playlist for 06/28/08:

Before there were Supergroups like the "Traveling Wilburys" and "Rock Star: Supernova", there was:

Orquesta Tipica Victor (1929)

Cancion Mistonga (with Juan Carlos Delson)
Atenti Pebeta (with Roberto Diaz)
Rezongame en las orejas (with Juan Carlos Delson)

... an orchestra which, like the aforementioned "Rock Star: Supernova", was created by the mandate of the all-powerful record company as an orchestra which "represented the label".

A procession of celebrated tango musicians such as Adolfo Carabelli, Pedro Laurenz, Anibal Troilo, Ernesto Fama, Angel Vargas, Charlo, among others, joined its ranks at various times of its existence.

But instead of Rock'n'! with "Rock", Orquesta Tipica Victor Rock'd! with various fine tango tunes, including the Canyengues I have placed here on the playlist.

More on OTV can be found on the todotango website here.

Pedro Laurenz with Alberto Podesta (1943)

Que Nunca me falte
Alma de Bohemia
Yo Quiero Cantar un Tango

If OTV is the "supergroup", then Alberto Podesta must be the "supertangoman" - was there any major tango orchestra which did not feature Podesta as one of their main singers at one time or another?

His collaborations with the different orchestras became inevitably some of the best recordings that each orchestra ever had in their catalogue.

The last time I checked, Podesta is going strong and STILL SINGING.

OTV's bare rhythmic sound is echoed in Laurenz's music - which has a very strong, I'd say "muscular" rhythmic sound, probably from the drive of the bandoneons in his orchestra. Laurenz's music, however, is very much tempered and complimented by the lyrical and romantic voice of Podesta. It's a combination that is extremely refined, and also very down-to-earth and "real". The milongueros (like Ricardo Vidort) really grooved to Laurenz's music on the dance floor.

Milonga - Juan D'Arienzo with Alberto Echague (1939)

Meta Fierro
De Antano
La Cicatriz

I've never been keen on Echague's valses, but his milongas, wow! That rapid-fire tough guy delivery of Echague's singing is totally suited for exhilarating compas of milonga. The intro to "Meta Fierro" is like a call-to-arms, "You must dance milonga NOW!" This is a truly fantastic, you-can't-go-wrong tanda of milonga.

Carlos Di Sarli (1946)

Clavel de Aire (with Jorge Duran)
El Distinguido Ciudadano
El Pollo Ricardo
Gracias (with Jorge Duran)

Even in the mid-40's, Di Sarli was recording fairly rhythmic tangos, like this version of "El Distinguido Ciudadano". Man Yung loves listening to the voice of Jorge Duran, but he prefers the later tangos of the 50's like "Whisky" and Muriendome de amor" for their smooth, passionate and dramatic singing and deep long pensive pauses. Will he say that I have included some more rhythmic Di Sarli's to satisfy my innate inability to "pause" for more than three seconds, whether it is in tango or in my other endeavours in life? Most probably.

Edgardo Donato (1938)

Alas Rotas (with Horacio Lagos)
El Estagiario
Cantando Bajito
El Adios (with Horacio Lagos)

Any song that Osvaldo and Coca Cartery performs to becomes "theirs", including Donato's "El Adios". Can I ever listen to Canaro's "Tormenta" or "Noche de Estrellas" or "Con Tu Mirar", or to Di Sarli's "La Torcacita" without thinking about them immediately?

Osvaldo Cartery has been having respiratory problems since the beginning of this year. He has been in and out of hospital and away from the tango scene for months. I hope that Osvaldo recovers soon and is back on the dance floor with Coca, showing us what it is really like to dance Tango - "Asi se Baila el Tango".

Vals - Juan D'Arienzo (1936)

Corazon de Artista
Vision Celeste
Tu Olvido (with Walter Cabral)

It really makes a big difference keeping the music consistent by having all the tracks in the tanda from the same era. You are enjoying the music instead of being jarred by constant changes in styles and moods. It is also a good way to really get to know the music - a complete tanda of similar tracks from the same time period enables you to really hear the music and have a chance to feel it with your dancing.

To all you DJs out there who say, "Irene, you are such a music snob. Why bother with all this research and all these rules? Don't you have anything better to do with your time? When I play music I see people getting up to dance to it, and this must mean my music is just fine!"

Well, Mr./Ms. DJ, you are absolutely right.

Why savour Champagne when you can be swigging Champale Malt Liquor* outside the local 7-Eleven with your buddies? It's cheap and cheerful - no need to waste your time thinking about vintage - and it still gets you drunk!

* It also comes in the following scintillating flavours: Golden, Pink, Dry and Red Berry. Four ways to impress your company! If only it could strip paint as well, then it would be a perfect beverage!

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