London Tango Orchestra: Abrazo Abierto (Open Embrace)

Caroline Pearsall's orchestra gives impressive readings from the songbook of one of jazz's South American cousins, with emphasis on Astor Piazzolla


Slightly outside our usual releases, this mixes the expressive approach of tango and elements of improvisation within the usual strictures of composition and arrangement to which the Argentinian dance form adheres. Links have been made between jazz and tango – their parallel histories, both having been dance music, often taken into the concert hall and even into areas of avant-garde culture. The formality, for me, makes it closer to the Hot Club of France style of jazz, in instrumentation and sound, rather than the American-based forms.

The London Tango Orchestra was founded in 2009 by Caroline Pearsall and this album mainly celebrates the work of Astor Piazzolla, who was responsible for taking the tango to a wide audience, but also includes arrangements of other composers’ work. Its title, Abrazo Abierto, refers to a style of embrace used, open rather than, for example, close or reverse.

Many of the tracks include dramatic changes of tempo, reflecting a range of emotions. This is a feature of tango, as heard straight from the off on Adios Nonino and Negracha, with its strands of dissonance. The tempo is again altered on Tanguedia, which gradually gathers momentum, ominously, the strings’ ascending and descending glissandi adding to the intensity and creating tension.

Other tracks are slower and more introspective, such as Soledad (Solitude) with its exquisite use of both solo and supportive strings and its underlying darkness. Others still show a more light-hearted style, Milonga De Buru an obvious example.

The musicianship is impressive, from the violin solos to the interaction between strings and bandoneon, and the piano is assertive and forthright. As well as effectively using glissandi, the strings also create a percussive feel through pizzicato.

A few of the tracks have vocals on which the musical accompaniment is tight and accomplished – the jaunty El Titere; the more circumspect Jacinto Chiclana, with its lyrics by Argentinian poet and writer Jorge Luis Borges about a knife death; Balada Para Un Loco (Song For A Madman) by lyricist Horacio Ferrer; and La Ultima Grela, described as “both a melancholy and reflective epitaph for the working-class women of the night, and a tribute to all women in tango”, though this version is not quite as overtly dark and dramatic as that of Ute Lemper.

An album that should appeal to those interested in the tango for dancing, practising your salida around the kitchen or simply listening.

Adios Nonino (Bye Bye Father); Negracha;  Soledad (Solitude); El Titere (The Puppet); Jacinto Chiclana; Tanguedia; Al Amigo Pablo Rago; Garua (Drizzle) ; La Ultima Grela (The Last Grela); Gallo Ciego (Blind Guy); Balada Para Un Loco (Song for a Madman); Milonga Del Buru (53.22)
Caroline Pearsall, Thea Spiers (vn); Cressida Wislocki (vla); Adam Spiers (clo); Bartosz Glowacki (bandoneon); Guillermo Rozenthuler (v); Andrew Oliver, John Turville (p); Tom Mason (b). Red Shed Studios, London, 2021.