Monday, January 23, 2006

Cordoba Reunión - 22/01/2006, Brussels

I hadn't been to the Arts-ô-Bases in almost forever and was agreeably surprised by its revamping. The stage has moved from the middle to the back of the long shoebox-shaped club, so it now makes more sense as a performance space. The bar is near the front and, just like at the Sounds, the labyrintine passage to the toilets is stage left. The Morrocan food is good. Owner (?) Abdel still takes the stage at the end of the concert to add his qraqeb to the churning rhythms. One thing still missing, however, is proper heating: we were semi-shivering during the second set. The real temperature contrasted with the warmth of the venue and of the musicians on stage.

Cordoba Reunión is led by drummer/percussionist Minino Garay and includes three other Argentinian musicians. Garay's stage persona is an endearing mix of stiffness and humour, and the venue lent itself to horsing around. Introducing a song whose title referred to the 2000 Argentinian financial crisis, he said (in French) "It was the first time that rich and poor were in the street together, because all their money had been stolen. I had put my money in Switzerland."

The music could be described in shorthand as Argentinian jazz, but my longhand feeling was that it was Argentinian music that, without really being jazz, wouldn't have been possible without jazz. Various native rhythms (no tango!) powerfully propelled elegant and lyrical compositions. Even at their most confusing or straight-laced (during a fantastic classically-influenced piano-percussion duet), their dance-rooted nature was still strongly felt. Saxophonist Javier Girotto played soprano throughout and his specialist status (still a rarity, despite the Bechets and the Lacys) showed: neither strident nor sappy, his tone was always full. He could scream and holler or play extremely quietly, but his bread 'n' butter was a folk-derived volubile melodic language. That low volume, though: infinitely sensual, with all the tension of virtuoso seduction. Not a slow jam, but the act itself.

Often, I would hear in a rhythm, a chord sequence or a general feeling, an echo of music I know from Martinique. This is something that happens regularly in Brazilian or Cuban musics (a kind of panamerican charateristic, maybe), but that I never hear in afro-american music of any kind. This may be because other societies were more thoroughly creolised, meaning that there was a greater retention of spanish and french forms, along with the african influence. In Martinique at least, this is pretty clear, for example in the names of the traditional music forms: quadrille, mazurka, biguine. Another element that sets North America apart is in its less multi-layered rhythms and less natural handling of polyrhythms. The invention of the drum-kit probably played a part in this, as every technological innovation leaves some things behind even as it adds new ones. Or maybe the streamlining of the drum part simply allowed for the layers to be scattered among the bass, guitar, piano, etc., whereas elsewhere the two or three percussionists would handle all of those rhythmic functions themselves.