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Building a library: the 1920s

Something very special happened to tango music in the late 1920s. Growing rapidly after its success in Europe, and evolving rapidly under the influence of Julio De Caro, it became more sophisticated and more lyrical.

Here we concentrate on a narrow period beginning at the end of 1926, with the introduction of electrical recording. The end is harder to define, but the beginning of the end was the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, exactly three years later; and the end of the end is in 1931, when the advent of talking pictures produced a convulsion in the musical life of the country. The music of these years displays a tenderness that was not to long survive the Great Depression.

It was the advent of electrical recording that opens this window into the past. The fidelity of recorded sound underwent a step change, revealing a music that is charming, tender, and intimate, with a rhythm that, in the words of one of my students, tells you exactly when to place your feet.

We review the gems from this bygone era, for which I hold a particular affection. Our journey will include some names that adapted well to the challenges of the coming golden age, such as Fresedo, Lomuto, and Di Sarli, and others whose star fared less well in the era of big orchestras and amplification, such as Pedro Maffia, Juan Maglio and the magnificent Orquesta Típica Brunswick. We also visit Paris to see the music being made there by Argentine musicians of great quality at the close of the roaring twenties.


Tango Collection - Osvaldo Fresedo

RGS 1643

What's this: Osvaldo Fresedo, the darling of the barrio norte (that's the posh part of town), the man who wasn't afraid to use drums, harp and even (gulp) vibraphone in his lineup? Well, when I first heard this, I was as surprised as you might be, reader.

Fresedo's music is beyond doubt the most lyrical of anything from this era. Here, towards the beginning of his career, the sweetness has yet to become cloying, and his refinement shines through.

He recorded prolifically on the Odeón label - 417 electrical recordings before switching to Brunswick in October 1928, the subsequent legal battle meaning that no further discs were issued until 1930. The change of house neatly bookends this part of his career, my favourite. Amazingly, for many years there was nothing by Fresedo from this period available on an Argentine label, aside from one long deleted album on EMI Pampa's Serie guardia vieja, Blue Moon produced a wonderful album, Arrabalero, but that's out of-print too.

However in 2012, RGS produced a magnificent Fresedo CD in their Tango Collection imprint. Strong beats and a base that almost growls at times make this just irresistible for dancing. The interpretation of La cachila is astounding, Lorenzo is delightful - you can find something good to say about every track on this CD.

At the same time, I'm here to tell you that there is plenty more material of this quality waiting to be reprinted. Just as a for instance, Fresedo's Fumando Espero, not included here, is perhaps the best ever.

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Track list
  1. Arrabalero
  2. Felicia
  3. El espiante
  4. Frases de amor
  5. La cachila
  6. Tinta verde
  7. Victoria
  8. Caminito
  9. Noches de Colón
  10. Paternal
  11. Saturnia
  12. Tradición
  13. Di Di
  14. El once
  15. El entrerriano
  16. Rivas
  17. Re fa si
  18. Noche de reyes
  19. Lorenzo
  20. Milonga con variación
Cantan:

Ernesto Famá (12,13,14,15,17,18) Antonio Buglione (20)


Tango Collection - Carlos Di Sarli Instrumental 1928-1931

RGS 1653

The recordings of Carlos Di Sarli's sextet display slightly later dates than those of Fresedo above and there's a clue in there: Di Sarli was one of Fresedo's many pianists. (The latter was so successful at this time that he had five orchestras running simultaneously in different parts of town). It's popular to say that Di Sarli's style is derivative of Fresedo, but I don't really buy it: even at this time, Di Sarli's recordings show their own distinct personality, albeit less developed than what was to come. It's a bit more meaty than Fresedo.

After being first to market, Blue Moon's cd (shown right) has been deleted, whilst Euro Records album is out-of-print. There are many delights on this cd, most especially the opening tracks, TBC and La guitarrita.

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Track list
  1. T B C
  2. La guitarrita
  3. Cuando bronca el temporal
  4. Soy un arlequín
  5. Un lamento
  6. El paladín
  7. Sos una fiera
  8. Mi pibe
  9. Barrilete
  10. Belén
  11. Che bacana
  12. Algo bueno
  13. Sábado
  14. Criollo viejo
  15. Don José María
  16. Racing Club
  17. Palito
  18. Añorándote
  19. Una noche de garufa
  20. Maldita

Canta:

  • Ernesto Famá (20)

Tango Collection - Francisco Lomuto

RGS 1715

Surprise surprise, once again it's RGS who finally bring us a CD of early recordings of Francisco Lomuto at a bargain price. Lomuto's early sides have a deep steady beat with a melancholic tinge and they are just fantastic for dancing.

This album picks up Lomuto's discography in 1929 at a point when he had already cut nearly 400 sides! At this time, recordings had long since switched from acoustic to electrical. The fidelity is really good - someone has been hiding these 78s away somewhere.

All but four of the 22 tracks are from the neglected period on the Odeón label, which ends in the summer of 1931. Mar de fondo is is from the end of 1931, The cumparsita is from 1936, whilst Criolla linda and Sentimiento gaucho are from 1942. (The few dates below are for disambiguation, i.e. to clarify which recording is meant on those tangos which Lomuto recorded more than once). Listen carefully and you can hear the introduction of the diminished sixth cadence - the ending which goes the wrong way, down rather than up - which would later become Lomuto's trademark. I won't tell you where though, to keep your ears sharp :-)

What are you waiting for??

You can get a couple of Lomuto tracks with Charlo singing on the Charlo CD on this label.

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Track list

  1. Tango argentino
  2. Serpentina dobla
  3. Patadura
  4. Mi pibe
  5. Medianoche
  6. Cuando despiertes
  7. Puerto nuevo (1929)
  8. Viejo amigo
  9. Piñataro
  10. Como los nardos en flor
  11. Buenos Aires (1930)
  12. Cuentas claras
  13. Bigotito (1930)
  14. Corazón de oro
  15. Amor y celos vals
  16. Pan
  17. Alondra
  18. Mar de fondo
  19. La cumparsita
  20. Cuando llora la milonga (1930)
  21. Criolla linda
  22. Sentimiento gaucho


que bonboncito

DZ 3008

This album offers a superb compilation of late 20s tangos in excellent fidelity. Highlights are the rare tracks of Orquesta Típica Brunswick and more from Pedro Maffia. The tracks from Julio De Caro are pretty good as well.

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Track list
Sexteto Julio De Caro
  1. El pillete
  2. Batida nocturna
Orquesta Pedro Maffia
  1. Arreando
  2. Pelele
  3. Muchachito lindo
Orquesta tipica Brunswick
  1. Tiempo pasado
  2. Fruta prohibida
  3. Se fini
Sexteto Julio De Caro
  1. Jueves
  2. El buey solo
  3. De rompe y raja
Orquesta Pedro Maffia
  1. Largalo
  2. Anoche en el club
  3. Chiqué!
  4. Angustia
Orquesta tipica Brunswick
  1. Mi pena
  2. Que bonboncito
  3. La canción del pirata

Pedro Maffia

DZ 3401

The dark, velvet tone of Pedro Maffia, one of the greatest bandoneon players that tango has ever produced, was already firmly consigned to history with the full-blooded tango of the fourties. He recorded 70 sides for Brunswick in 1929-1930, 76 for Columbia in 1930-31, and then lost his job in the talking pictures revolution. By the time he came back, in 1934, he felt it was too late for his subtle style, and within a few years, like De Caro, he had virtually retired. I wish he hadn't. His arrangements show a tremendous sense of crescendo and diminuendo, and I feel they would have survived the transition to the larger lineups, but it was not a change he was willing to make.

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Of the available CDs, by far and away the best is on the German label Danza y Movimiento - it has the cleanest transfers, which all date from the 1930-31 recordings with Columbia. However, when you hear the word German, you should also hear the word "expensive". However, it's worth it to hear the way Maffia uses neither bandoneon nor violin nor piano for the lower voice, but a cello.

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Track list
  1. Un pobre borracho
  2. Perlas negras
  3. Romantico bulincito
  4. Sentimientos
  5. Estela
  6. Reliquia gaucha
  7. Me estas cansando
  8. Rezongon
  9. Reo noble
  10. Llorando la carta
  11. Broche de oro
  12. Che, pascual
  13. Chantilly
  14. Cómo te divertis
  15. Carillon de la merced
  16. Golondrina
  17. La final
  18. Llevame en tus alas
  19. El entrerriano
  20. Domino

Canta:

  • Luis Díaz (3,6,9)
  • Francisco Fiorentino (12,15)
  • Rafael cisca (18)

Juan Maglio

EBCD 86

Juan "Pacho" Maglio was a staunch member of the old guard who disappeared from the scene with the arrival of Juan D'Arienzo and the golden decade of the fourties. He is often associated with his work from the early 1910s, so popular at the time that his discs were referred to as "Pachos", and available on El Bandoneón.

As dancers, the period we are interested in is rather later: the years 1926-1934. These are presented on this el bandoneón which is currently still available. Maglio's work is seems less personal than others of this period on first hearing but this work grows on you with repeated listenting. The solid beats make this music just irresistible for dancing, and the album is stuffed to the gunnels with five star hits. For lovers of the genre these recordings are indispensable.

We've tracked down the vocalists for you in the tracklist below (this is information you won't find on the CD), principal among them Carlos Viván who sang extensively with Roberto Firpo's orchestra in the 1930s. Maglio's virtuoso bandoneón is on good display in tracks such as Qué vachaché. Enjoy!

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Track list
  1. Quejas de bandoneón
  2. Arrabalero
  3. Ventanita de arrabal
  4. La copa del olvido
  5. Cuando llora la milonga
  6. Leguísamo solo
  7. Noche de reyes
  8. Amurado
  9. Sábado Inglés
  10. Che papusa oi
  11. Orillas del plata vals
  12. Milonguero viejo
  13. Esta noche me emborracho
  14. Qué vachache
  15. Alma en pena
  16. Malevaje
  17. Tango argentino
  18. Armenonville
  19. Viejo smoking
  20. Almagro
Cantan:
  • José Galarza (10,15)
  • Carlos Viván (7,8,12,13,14,16)

Bianco Bachicha - Original Tangos

EPM 995302

And now to Paris for a very special treat, the Bianco-Bachicha orchestra.

There isn't space to give a full bio of his band, almost unknown in Argentina. The association of the two principals was shortlived, although both never returned home. Eduardo Bianco is the first violin. You may not think you know him, but you do. He wrote the lyrics of Poema.He miraculously survived the sinking of a ferry in Montevideo in which over 900 of his passengers lost their lives, came to France, toured for a few years and then settled down in Nazi Germany for the war years, during which he famously played for both Hitler and Mussolini: a unique and dubious distinction.

His colleague Juan Deambroggio, Bachicha, is the first bandoneón. He stayed in Paris right through the German occupation and beyond, his band playing at La Cupole into the 1950s. He died in obscurity probably in 1960.

Together they formed the Bianco-Bachicha orchestra which opened the Cabaret Palermo in the legendary 'El Garron'. The band was creative and successful, breaking up in 1929 when these men decided to go their separate ways. This is an orchestra of Argentine musicians playing in Paris for Parisian sensibilities in the years 1926-1929. As such, the music is tinged with melodrama, and whilst I can no longer take the whole thing completely seriously it still has great charm.

Also in the band was guitarist Horacio Pettorossi, who is remoured to be the real author of the tango Bandoneón arrabalero, a huge hit at the time that was recorded by Gardel. You can appreciate his fine guitar work in a most unusual guitar solo in the band's version of La cumparsita.

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Listening to the music today, the singer Juan Raggi is key to the band's overall sound - something highly unusual for a dance band in the 1920s. He projects an air of wistful melancholy.

Track list
Orquesta Bianco-Bachicha
  1. La cumparsita
  2. Crepuscolo
  3. Bandoneón arrabalero
  4. Vidalita
  5. Perjura
  6. No te quiero más
  7. Plegaria
  8. Siempre
  9. Samitier
  10. Angustia
  11. Recuerdo
  12. Tengo ganas de llorar
  13. Oro muerto
  14. Quebracho
  15. Paso lento
  16. Enfermita mía
  17. Negro
  18. Pato
  19. Desilusión
  20. Spaventa
  21. Aserrín-aserrán

Cantan:

  • Juan Raggi (2,3,7,10,19)
  • César Alberu (6,18)
  • Mario Melfi and chorus (21)

Donato-Zerrillo

EBCD 139

Extremely rare recordings of the celebrated orchestra headed by Donato and Zerrillo around 1930, plus early Donato from 1930-1932

Track list
  1. Tristes amanecer
  2. Luces de la tarde
  3. Seguí, no te pares
  4. Don Estebán
  5. De madrugada
  6. Hasta cuándo?
  7. Misterio
  8. Se va la vida
  9. Dolores
  1. Felicia
  2. La paisanita
  3. Adelina
  4. Rayo de luz
  5. Volvé
  6. Pibe palermo
  7. Yo tan sólo 20 años tenía
  8. Viejo Palermo
  9. Evocación
  10. Che Rodolfo
  11. Décile a tu vieja

Canta:

  • Luis Díaz (11,12,13,19)
  • Mercedes Carné (18)

Francisco Canaro - Original Tangos

EPM 995322

We end where we should have begun, with the most successful tango musician ever, Francisco Canaro. By nature a populist, Canaro adapted himself to the nature of each decade. His later recordings, although cheerful, lack the subtlety and charm of his early work. His earlier recordings display a tremendous musicianship, particularly from the hands of his stellar bandoneon player Minotto Di Cicco.

This CD on the French EPM label is the best Canaro CD ever and likely to remain so. If I could only have one tango CD, it might even be this one. Every track is a standout, the rhythm is the most varied and exciting of anything of anything from this period (including De Caro), and the vocalists are all wonderful. Some of the best recordings ever of La Cumparsita, Don Juan and Derecho Viejo. The catch? It's deleted. Unbelievably, there is not a single CD of Canaro in print from this period.

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Track list
  1. La cumparsita (1933)
  2. Yira yira canta: Luis Díaz
  3. Adiós muchachos
  4. Margaritas canta: Charlo; Angel Ramos
  5. Zaraza canta: Charlo
  6. La morocha canta: Ada Falcón
  7. Don Juan
  8. A media luz
  9. Tus besos fueron míos
  10. Viejo ciego canta: Charlo
  11. Amigaso
  12. Derecho viejo
  13. Retintin
  14. Queja indiana canta: Agustín Irusta; Roberto Fugazot
  15. Tipo loco
  16. San Cristobal canta: Charlo
  17. Mala suerte canta: Ernesto Famá
  18. Tormenta canta: Ernesto Famá
  19. Travesia
  20. Noches de reyes canta: Agustín Irusta; Roberto Fugazot
  21. Atorrante canta: Charlo
  22. Entre sueños canta: Charlo
  23. Venite conmigo canta: Charlo

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