Intrigue, seduction, world music – Tango No. 9 returns to Pacifica
In 1988, over whiskey and cigarettes, it came to classically-trained violinist Catharine Clune that she should start a tango band. Her husband ordered some music by Astor Piazzolla and Clune weighed in on different facts. She was born on September 9, her husband and she once lived in apartment number 9, and then there was the Beatles’s tune from the “White Album” — “Number 9.” And thus came to be the tango band, Tango No. 9.
Featuring music director Catharine Clune on violin, Joshua Raoul Brody on piano, Greg Stephens on trombone and Zoltan DiBartolo on vocals, Tango No. 9 plays Saturday night at Pacifica Performances Mildred Owen Concert Hall. This is not the band’s first gig in Pacifica, nor will their highly anticipated event be the last, as their sound is, in all its music virtuosity, a glorious rhythmic embrace which leaves all sense of mediocrity abandoned at the door.
At this Saturday night concert, titled “Tango from the Heart,” Tango No. 9 will be joined by dancers Count Glover and Mila Salazar. Considered one of the best dancers of Argentine tango in San Francisco, Count Glover is a professional dancer, teacher, and choreographer of Argentine tango with a tap and ballet background. Dancer Mia Salazar, who directs her own group, TangoFlor, has performed in the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, The Latin Show, and was dance captain of the Libertango Dancers.
Songs on the evening’s set lists include — “Revolutionario” (Astor Piazzolla), “Ballada Para Un Loco” (Astor Piazzolla, arranged by Greg Stephens), “Oblivion” (Astor Piazzolla), “Por Una Cabeza” (a Tango No. 9 premiere of an “old guard” piece, arranged by Joshua Raoul Brody), and “Macheaths Call from the Grave & Epitaph” (Kurt Weill, arranged by Greg Stephens).
Singer Zoltan DiBartolo, who has an active career as an opera tenor, is the newest member of Tango No. 9. Prior to joining the band in 2009, the long-time vocalist spanned the genres with his song — classical, jazz, rock, Latin, cabaret and vaudeville. But once he heard Tango No. 9 in 2007, he admits to being “obsessed” with wanting to sing tango. He appealed to T9 and was brought on as a featured guest singer. Two years later, the guest became part of the band.
Basically, there are no dullards in Tango No. 9. Trombonist and composer Stephens can include, among others — Big Lou’s Dance Party, Circus Bella All-Stars, Ad Hoc Brass Band and The Green Street Mortuary Band on his performance and recording résumé. Pianist Brody, the recipient of several Cabaret Gold Awards, composes for films and is the accompanist for various improv theater groups which include Bay Area Theatersports, True Fiction and Awkward Dinner Party. Clune said that both Stephens and Brody do a ton of “heavy lifting” when it comes to transcribing or arranging parts.
Clune, also a composer, is a ten plus-year veteran of San Francisco’s esteemed Club Foot Orchestra, known for their thrilling complex scores for classic silent movies. She is now one of the leaders of its off-shoot, the Nino Rota cover band Orchestra Nostalgico. Clune met Brody in CFO, during a gig where they played as the house band with German rocker Nina Hagen and actor Danny Kovacs (who played Third Reich psychic Hanussen), at the classic Bimbos 365 Club. She met Stephens back in the day when both participated in the New Composers Forum concerts.
While Clune received her degree in violin performance, she no longer plays classical, except for her children. “Tango is my life!” she laughed. “But I really love tango, jazz and popular music and the border where they all meet. My musical career has been perched on that edge since leaving college. That and a dollar fifty get you on the bus!”
Currently at work on their 5th album, slated for a fall release, Tango No. 5 will play heavily Saturday night from that recording. “We are currently working a modern piece by Horacio Salgán,” Clune said. “It’s not quite ready to premiere, but boy, I can hardly wait to bring it to the public — another tango that gets into your bones and makes the blood rise.”
“Tango No. 9 is an amazing collective arranger, bringing in subtle American traditions to the rich history of the tango,” Clune continued. “We also like to mix a traditional piece and push it more modern, or play an art song or add in a touch of Kurt Weill. And the places we have played! One of my favorites was playing as part of a music series which brought live music to the airport. I loved the romance of playing tango in the United Airlines terminal — people coming from all over the world, and going all over the world, buying our CDs and taking our music with them to their life, wherever that life exists.”
- Jean Bartlett
Tango No. 9: Radio Valencia
Explorations in 21-Century Tango abound in this well-crafted disc by Tango No. 9, hailing from San Francisco. The chamber ensemble was formed in 1998 by violinist Catharine Clune and also includes piano, accordion – not quite the same as Astor Piazzolla’s bandoneon – and trombone. The quasi-classical quartet approaches compositions with sincere gusto and highly accomplished musicianship. Most of the songs on this, their second CD, are the quartet’s own arrangements of time-honored tango compositions. A track such as “La Puñalada,” while relatively short (only 1:49 minutes), displays each musician’s instrumental proficiency, as well as the ensemble’s near-telepathic interplay; talk about tight! It is rare for a US-based ensemble to sound so internationally cosmopolitan; you’d swear they had honed their skills in Paris or Buenos Aires. Nonetheless it is a testament to the fact that Tango No. 9 is destined to thrill audiences for many albums and performances to come.
— Robert Kaye
May 31, 2006
Tango No. 9: Radio Valencia
Consider the red rose: the fiery hue, the intoxicating scent, the perilous thorns. It’s the perfect symbol for Argentina’s hot-blooded tango, an indigenous music and dance style that revels in the passion and sorrow of the heart. That such a romantic genre has found an enthusiastic audience in San Francisco is a testament to our windswept city’s lust for life. On its second CD, named after the now-defunct Mission cafe where the quartet got its start in 1998, Tango No. 9 celebrates the art form’s roots with evocative cover tunes dating from the first half of the 20th century. Imbued with grand dramatic gestures — weepy melodies, strapping rhythms, sweeping crescendos — the songs are black-and-white celluloid nostalgic, while the band’s instrumental combo of violin, piano, trombone, and accordion couples chamber music intimacy with jazz-band punch. The sum effect? A provocative, enlivening sound that’s good steamy fun.
— San Prestianni
Sunday, January 30, 2005
Night & Day
Last time we saw Tango No. 9, we were trying to have a conversation. We had ducked into some joint to get out of the rain, and we didn’t know the combo was scheduled to play. A glass of wine and a cozy tête-à-tête was all we had in mind. Instead, as soon as we got settled, the music grabbed us by the emotional necktie and pushed us up against a sonic wall. Abandoning all desire for chat, we gave ourselves over to the music — which we liked even before we saw the dancers. The band’s name, after all, is no joke: Amazing tango dancers follow the musicians around, the kind who can easily put radiant heat in your pants and a tear of joy in your eye.
— Hiya Swanhuyser
Monday, April 23, 2001
Tango No. 9 Tangles With Distractions
Is the Conga Room a good venue for a tango concert? Friday at the popular salsa club, San Francisco’s Tango No. 9 ensemble did its best to woo its scarce audience with a repertoire composed mostly of tunes by Astor Piazzolla, the genre’s undisputed master. Problem is, every time a new patron came into the room, the opening of the door broke the mood by ushering in the seductive sound of Afro-Cuban music coming from the venue’s other room.
And because there’s a tendency with American audiences to think of tango as a cliche of Latin exotica — music meant to be heard in a restaurant setting while consuming expensive entrees – most of the patrons Friday talked noisily while the quartet attempted to conjure up the dead-serious spirit of the real thing.
Listening to Tango No. 9 tackling Piazzolla classics such as “Adios Nonino” and “Marron y Azul,” it was easy to see that this ensemble has indeed fallen head over heels in love with tango.
Ironically, the group’s playing is a bit too polished and elegant to capture the essence of Piazzolla, who happens to be the darkest and rawest of tango composers, embracing tragedy and death with unflinching determination.
Yet the ensemble shone on more conventional fare such as Anibal Troilo’s “La Ultima Curda.” And its decision to incorporate the unusual sound of a trombone to its lineup is brilliant.
— Ernesto Lechner
May 10-16, 2000
TANGO NO. 9: La dolce vita
If you’re convinced that you were meant to live the spicier life of, let’s say, Marcello Mastroianni, then Tango #9 will help keep your delusion alive. A lustful style of music and dance that developed among European immigrants in the brothels of 1920s Argentina, tango gave expression to everything that could — and eventually would — go wrong in love. Maybe that’s why tango dancers look so afflicted. Tango #9 looks to the early music of the great innovator Astor Piazzolla, who fled Argentina for Paris in the 1950’s with his exquisite and thoroughly modern tango nuevo — a music for dreaming rather than dancing.
On a recent Saturday night at the cozy and luminescent Radio Valencia, bandleader-violinist Catharine Clune (Club Foot Orchestra) took the band through fiery, old-style tango numbers as well as doomed Russian folk songs and quirky, familiar Nino Rota film scores. But it was the sophisticated Piazzolla sound — somewhere between classical and jazz — that set the evening’s tone. Pianist Alla Gladysheva provided minor-key staccato rhythms that were augmented by the evocative, scratchy timbres of Greg Stephen’s trombone. Odile Lavault’s bandoneon (mini accordion) melodies captured an American’s idea of Euro-romance culture.
Piazzolla’s “La Misma Pena” featured descending melody lines over military chop-chop rhythms, suggesting a bittersweet existentialist worldview. His “Tzigane Tango” found the musicians involved in a tense relationship – just like classical tango dance partners. “Chao Paris” had a strange, lilting quality that culminated in a steamy trombone solo. And Piazzolla’s most famous “Adios Nonino” opened with a wrenching violin piano duet and proceeded to reach for that pitch bespeaking exile and longing.
La dolce vita, indeed.
— Adam Savetsky
All Them Cats in Recoleta
French cigarette smoke from the heart of a dark Paris café comes pouring out of this album — accompanied by the lonely sensuality of a bandoneon, the sexy slur of a trombone, the heartbreaking sigh of a violin and the therapeutic chords of a piano. If this quartet had a vocalist, she would have a whiskey voice and an angel’s body.
The 13 songs are mostly early works of Astor Piazzolla, an Argentine expatriate living and composing in Paris in the 1950s. Lengthy album notes by poet Carlos Suarez compare jazz and the tango, both originating in the bordello lifestyle of earthy people at the beginning of the 20th century. One from New Orleans, the other from Buenos Aires.
Both musics were shunned by proper people of proper breeding. Suarez finds some convincing similarities, and the members of Tango No. 9 are eager to convince us. Improvising within the tango structure, but adding a more swingy feel to the traditional tango rhythm, this San Francisco quartet fills its sad songs with a vibrant desire to survive.
Only tango aficionados will find any familiar titles in this collection, but any pair of good ol’ American ears can hear the conflicted life within each piece. Just as a slow blues will provide relief from life’s daily drudgery, just as a jazzier tempo creates a wilder response, so do Piazzolla’s compositions.
While the tango has had a strong following in Tucson for years, the players on this CD have replaced traditional tango poise and formality with a more immediate expression of physical desire. You may not tap your foot, but your soul will feel the yearning and remember the sweaty excitement of magical nights when anything could happen.
— Chuck Graham
South Florida’s Music Magazine
Whenever a new form of music is being created, there’s always some highbrow there to tell the world that it’s not real music. It’s longevity that brings forth respect. Case in point: Both Jazz and Tango music were considered low-rent, low-class forms of music in their early stages. So it seems only natural when these two personate forms of musical expression are joined together in hybrid fashion. And the results are a thing of beauty.
Working primarily with the compositions of Astor Piazzolla, Tango No. 9 has released a dazzling debut album. Perhaps the most passionate debut I’ve ever heard. And passion is what Tango is all about. Whether it’s the remorseful “Adios Nonino” or the steamy sensuality of “Tanguango” every track on the disc breaths emotion.
This San Francisco quartet is composed of native Parisian Odile Lavault on bandoneon, and three Americans: Catharine Clune on violin, Joshua Raoul Brody on piano, and Greg Stephens of trombone. Tango purists may question that last move, but it works. Though I would have never considered a trombone in place of a bass, I can appreciate how great it sounds. That is why artists like Tango No. 9 create music like this, and I only talk about it.
The music is alive with emotion. Tango with a hint of jazz. Again, highbrow purists may scoff, but the longevity this group shall surely receive, will grant them respect. Not your standard RAG music, granted. But this is South Florida’s music magazine. And this is damn fine music.
— Franklin E. Wales