After Ástor Piazzolla, who? Saluzzi, now in his mid-60s, is viewed by many as Piazzolla's heir – the bandoneonista most likely to nurture the musical and emotional paradoxes associated with this instrument, and with Argentinian music. What is "popular" and what is "classical" becomes tantalizingly unclear in this territory. The line between composition and improvisation blurs, as does the line between hot-blooded celebration and cool-eyed self-criticism… not just with respect to a piece of music or the way that it is played, but also of the cultural milieu that births and feeds the music. Piazzolla spoke of the Tango Nuevo, the "New Tango," and Saluzzi continues develping the genre… at times, like a crab, by going backwards. He goes backwards into his childhood, and into the collective subconsciousness of the Argentine people in search of the "ur-tango," of the ancient tensions and passions that made them want to express their souls in song and dance.
There's no point combining genres if they don't mix. Having a classical string quartet simply accompany Saluzzi's bandoneon would have been like layering olive oil over blood. The challenge in Kultrum, a challenge shared by Saluzzi and the members of the Rosamunde Quartet, was for their partnership to be one of synergy. The Quartet must play a constantly active and creative role, really that of a co-composer, while remaining true to its classical traditions. Saluzzi must not simply transcribe his music; he must compose it again for the new medium.
Kultrum, then, is a collection of eight works for bandoneon and string quartet. It takes popular Argentinian styles to the next level, much as Miles Davis did with the blues. It is sophisticated music, but as wary of pretention as it is of facile emotion. There is really little animal rejoicing in it, and what high spirits there are seem hard and breakable. Perhaps it is forgivable, given the German (yes, German!) origin of the bandoneon, to describe Kultrum as heavily colored by Weltschmerz. All the instruments take turns stepping into the foreground, but this never ceases to be an ensemble effort. Saluzzi is a find (I was unfamiliar with him prior to this release), and the members of the Rosamunde Quartet show more character here than they did on their first ECM New Series release, which contained music by Shostakovich, Webern, and Burian.
Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle