Before virtuoso Argentine musician-composer Astor Piazzolla came along in the mid-’50s, the bandoneon (button squeezebox) was primarily known as a sailor’s “toy” accordion. In his hands, though, it became the instrument that allowed Piazzolla to create and forever define one of the greatest fusion musics of the 20th century, Tango Nuevo. Twelve years after his death, there’s but one cat with instrumental and compositional chops audaciously iconoclastic enough to walk in El Maestro’s boots: Dino Saluzzi.
Saluzzi and collaborator Anja Lechner are celebrating the release of his newest CD, Ojos Negros, with a U.S. tour that will run from April 18 through the 28, also returning to play the famed Spoleto Festival on May 28. The album finds Saluzzi beautifully linking up with Lechner, cellist of the Rosamunde Quartet, to take tango to a place that Piazzolla lovers dream of. “Talking about Piazzolla, the tango, if the form is not moving, it is impossible,” Saluzzi says, echoing the sentiment of Piazzolla, whose musical audacity verged on heresy in the eyes of tango purists.
“The art has to be fresh at all times, moving at all times. The artist must always move his soul to a different place. Anja is the connection that made it possible to take these tunes from the tango place—which is not a rhythmical place. But her phrases and harmonies in there, with the violoncello and
bandoneon only, and this kind of expression makes really great possibilities.” But how Saluzzi arrived is almost as fascinating a story as what he’s up to now. The scion of an amateur folk musician family, Timoteo “Dino” Saluzzi was born on May 20, 1935, in the northern village of Campo Santo, Argentina. His father, a worker in the Salta sugar-refining factory, was proficient on guitar, mandolin and bandoneon. It was the latter instrument that captivated the youngster. “At night, my father would often play the bandoneon outside of the factory,” he reminisces. “In the moonlight, it was the most beautiful of sounds; so lovely. All the tunes he played took the soul of the people, the life, the beauty of the place; the expression of the geography. I knew then that the instrument was so full of possibility, you know?”
Noting his son’s interest, the elder Saluzzi began teaching him the rudiments at the age of seven. A born bandoneonista, Dino was leading his first band, Trio Carnaval, by 14. Six years later, Dino was in Buenos Aires, studying classical music, playing in Enrique Francini’s tango orchestra Orquesta Estable, and hanging out with Maestro Piazzolla. Though inspired by his mentor’s Tango Nuevo experiments, Dino was determined to find his own voice. “He was a great composer of that time, composing on the contemporary music but gaining strong power from the alternalismo, the free composition”, muses Saluzzi. “But everybody followed his music, getting smothered by it. Like him, I have convictions about my ideas, the capacity to take a risk to make my own music. I try not to play Piazzolla because Piazzolla is Piazzolla and Dino Saluzzi is Dino Saluzzi.”
In 1956, Dino Saluzzi formed El Pen Tango…and then returned to Salta. Over the next two decades, he honed his composition skills and consciously incorporated the folk music idioms of his home region in the mix. In 1973, tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri, the composer of the Last Tango In Paris soundtrack and Argentina’s only credible avant-garde jazzman, recruited Dino to play on his landmark album Chapter One: Latin America. The exposure led to Saluzzi concert gigs in Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. In ’77, Saluzzi toured Japan as arranger/soloist for Enrique Francini’s Sinfonica de Tango. The decade ended with the emerging bandoneon master’s triumphant European tours with his own Cuarteto Dino Saluzzi and his acclaimed experimental chamber ensemble Musica Creativa. Enter Manfred Eicher.
Eicher, the legendary founder