The Free-Reed Review
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CD Review: Tango Dogs
Orquesta Atipica
Shannon Heaton, flute
Matthew Heaton, guitar
Ryan Hembry, bass
Michael Crane, accordion


Whiskey: A. Piazzolla
Ender's Game: Heaton
Dead Miswer Waltz: Crane
La Torcacita: Martinez
Tango Dog Go: Heaton
Orquesta Maneuvers in the Dark: Heaton
Maybe Sometime, Probably Not: Heaton
Farwell, My Lovely: Heaton
Canaro: Martinez
Zita: Piazzolla

total time: 39:08
released: 1997
label: Eats, Shoots & Leaves ESL CD.001

This CD may be ordered directly from Matthew Heaton by e-mail:
Orquesta Atipica:

Or contact:
ESL Records
PO Box 4004
Boulder, CO 80306-4004

Review by Gregory A. Vozar:

Were we playing a word association game, "Tango" would probably bring to mind the name "Astor Piazzolla." This is not surprising, as Piazzolla was one of the most recent and visible of a long line of Argentine exponents of that musical genre. His fame rests primarily upon the latter part of his life when he and his compositions achieved a well-deserved and long-overdue recognition. However, during a good portion of his career as a musician and composer, his reputation was anything but hallowed. Popular opinion was split into opposing camps when it came to his music. On one hand, many applauded him for infusing new life into the moribund tango, but for the tradition-minded portion of Argentina's population, to whom the Tango had become a cultural icon, he was a heretic and iconoclast.

Piazzolla was simply following his innate musical inclination (under the talented guidance of his teacher Nadia Boulanger) when he forged the powerful, dark compositional style he called Tango Nuevo. Into it, he incorporated the rhythms of traditional Argentine dances, the querulous pathos of the bandoneón, a jazz-like improvisational freedom and a good deal of his own internal vision. Piazzolla mined raw human passion as fuel for his compositions, eloquently expressing the most elemental emotions and powerful urges. Did he intentionally set out to create a musical trend? I personally doubt that was his goal, but such was the strength of his artistic statement that he motivated others to examine their own musical "roots" in similar fashion.

Matthew Heaton and the members of Orquesta Atipica, are among the younger people inspired to follow Piazzolla's trail blazing efforts. Tango has experienced several periods of popularity and decline, but these musicians are not of an age to have lived through them. It follows that their compact disc, Tango Dogs, is not the result of nostalgia. From the opening and closing tracks, "Whisky" and "Zita," by Piazzolla himself, it is clear his flame illuminates their musical vision. But, by no means make the mistake of believing they mime his compositions! Actually, Orquesta Atipica members earned their stripes with real-time tango experience, playing at milongas [dance parties] and accompanying the ubiquitous and talented bandoneonist, Raúl Jaurena, for his club dates in the Chicago area. (Michael Crane, who plays the accordion on this recording, was the pianist on those occasions.)

In two short e-mail interviews, Matthew Heaton described his 1992 discovery of Tango Nuevo: "I got to the tango, as I suspect a number of people did, through Piazzolla. As an undergraduate classical guitar student, I heard the Assad brothers guitar duo play the Tango Suite, which inspired me to learn it. I then met Shannon, our flutist (and now my wife), who had the music to the History of the Tango. The first Piazzolla recording I heard was of his Vienna Concert, which pretty much blew me out of the water. I realized that Piazzolla's concert music wasn't half the story, and I began to search for more and more recordings. Then I started some half-hearted attempts to write in that style."

Indeed, half the selections on Tango Dogs originate from the pen of Matthew Heaton. He and Orquesta offer listeners an engaging program of varied emotional flavors. Among his compositions, one of my favorites is "Tango Dog Go." In it the group sustains a curiously upbeat tempo in spite of the composition's dark color and minor key. Flautist Shannon Heaton's apt tonguing of its complex melodic material and her breathy parallel octaves with Ryan Hembry's bass lend this piece a 1960's 'James Bond' cool. The melancholic and introspective strains of "Farewell, My Lovely" is another Heaton composition I find very attractive, and one I would like to hear him develop on solo guitar. Michael Crane, the accordionist on this disk, was the author of the pretty "Dead Miser Waltz" where each musician gets a turn at the delicate, buoyant melody.

The disk presents two traditional tangos as well: the tango-milonga "La Torcacita" with its old-fashioned rhythm and melody, and the brisk milonga "Canaro," which pays homage to the famous orchestra leader Francisco Canaro, one of Argentina's most important musicians. Here I must doff my hat to Mike Crane, who, especially in these two pieces, manages to produce some surprisingly bandoneón-like affects on his 120-bass accordion. Considering the weight and size of the latter instrument when compared to the bandoneón, this is quite a feat.

I feel it necessary at this point to make a comment that will undoubtedly expose me as a carping traditionalist, but I feel it so important that I will make it anyway. The accordion makes a poor substitute for the bandoneón in tango, although I admit it is more successful on Tango Dogs than on any other recording I have heard. The bandoneón imposes its peculiarities upon both music and performer by way of its sonority, button arrangement, bellows and playing technique. It has been called "the soul of tango," and many believe that without its plaintive voice, there can be no tango. While I do not totally subscribe to the latter statement, I do believe that its qualities cannot be adequately duplicated or rendered by any other free-reed instrument. While bandoneón players are not quite as scarce as hen's teeth, they are at least distant cousins to dinosaurs and their absence from the recording studio (at least in the USA) is understandable.

Another positive comment I must make about this compact disk, in addition to those concerning the music and performance, is the quality of its presentation. While program notes and biographical details are missing from the insert, the art, graphics and photography are excellent. I have seen many CDs by bigger name performers with larger budgets who could have taken some lessons here! Leo Hsu, Erika Adkins and Victor Thompson, the team of people who worked on this project, are to be commended for applying their time and talent; it has not gone unnoticed.

I believe Tango Dogs to be an interesting and original entré into the Tango Nuevo arena and a worthwhile purchase for anyone interested in hearing how new musicians are expanding the boundaries of the tango. Unfortunately, the band that made this recording has broken up, its members moving to different parts of the USA. The good news is that Matthew and Shannon Heaton (guitar and flute) have reformed their group; it includes a regular bandoneonist, as well as a violinist and a 'cellist. They now play milongas in and around Denver, Colorado under the name Extasis: Orquesta Atipica (EOA, for short). Their compact disk, however, is still available directly from Matthew Heaton at the e-mail and post office box listed above.

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