Saturday, August 05, 2006

Album Review--Tango Saloon

The crisp, clean feel of Spanish guitar opens the “Overture” of Julian Curwin’s latest eclectic project, Tango Saloon. It almost sounds like Astor Piazzolla, though it’s an original composition. From there, he slowly layers electric guitar, the thump of a bass, and finally soft electronic sounds. The next thirteen tracks flow in and out from traditional tango into German tango (as much polka as anything with heavy use of tubas) into Spaghetti Western themes and beyond into beats and samples.

These songs are Curwin’s, an Australian guitar player, improviser, and arranger, variations on the theme of tango and, thus, veer off wildly from the traditional. There is an over-riding feel for the style, but only a few of the songs could rightfully be called that style. It has the feeling of a very good mix tape, inasmuch as it begins as pure tango and slowly diverges; by the time you come to the intermission, there is very little to indicate that it is a tango record at all. However, once it is stretched as far as it can go, Curwin reigns it in and, by the end of the album, you are (marginally) back at square one. The lineup of artists changes song-by-song (noted members include Mr. Bungle’s Danny Heifetz on Drums, Jess Ciampa on various percussion, and some excellent accordion from Svetlana Bunic), and each grouping gives a different feel and, sometimes, very disparate styles. Because of this, listening to single tracks on the album is fruitless, but there is vision on the album in its entirety. Well-played with interesting variations on the style, Tango Saloon is a different kind of album than will normally appear on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Records, and it may be one of the best mix tapes I’ve ever heard. As an album, Tango Saloon has very fine moments worthy of both tango and modern (if restrained) improvisation, though not all of it that feel tacked on.