A chilling word made its way to some of us filling the Jazz Tent to capacity and then some on Spring Garden Road Friday night - a lovely warm summer evening. Headliners. Orquestra Tipica Imperial had somehow lost their way from the airport to downtown. But, we were quickly assured, they HAD made it and we would not be denied our BIG TANGO PARTY night.
As a Jazz Fest crew prepped the stage for Orquestra Tipica Imperial, members of East Coast Tango laid a temporary dance floor over the asphalt in front of the stage. I was told that East Coast Tango has now swelled to 80 participants and is growing fast. I was also told that if their dancing excited viewers, the appropriate exhultation of approval would be cries of: "Eso!" - loosely translated as " That's good" or "Ya got it, brother and sister". As the flooring was going down, the band members quickly assumed their places: three bandoneon (like a concertina) players front and centre, behind them, a cellist - who bore a passing resemblance to The Who's Pete Townsend circa the late 1970s, three violinists, an acoustic bass player, and, off to one side, a pianist at a baby grand piano. Rounding out the band, a diminutive vocalist, emcee (who spoke flawless English); a charmer who would later turn out to be more fun than a balloon parade. This was Ivan Espeche.
Following a loud welcoming cheer from the audience, the pianist counted in the first offering. Suddenly the air exploded with a sharp snapping sound of music, powered by the three bandoneon players hunched over their instruments and knees. The chopping rhythm, tickled by the flying fingers of the pianist, was richly enhanced by gorgeous playing in the string section. This was to be a constant throughout the evening's memorable two sets of tangos and milongas. Dramatic. Yup. Passionate. You're not kidding. Organic. Holee. The dynamics astonished. Roaring and predatory one moment; sweet and melancholy the next. Back and forth. Loud and soft: rife with expression of the confounding complications of human to human relationships. The faces of the musicians reflected the roiling narratives in the music. Bliss. Ferocity. Longing. Contempt. Their bodies swayed in time with the changing elastic tempos. Their heads flailed, tossing hair with abandon. Down in front, the tango dancers moved in stylized reflection and response to no doubt had to be only the most authentic bedtrack to their dancing and the most inspiring they ever heard. Heads were pressed tightly together. Faces solemn and serious. Often with eyes tightly shut. Waist down, their hips swiveled as if to both get away and to come back together. Push. Pull. Yin yang Argentine style. Legs jabbed out from side to side, describing tight arcs. One spectator observed: "Above the waist, you're still and seriously messed up; below, you're a maniac."
As if the brilliant instrumentals were not enough to please, vocalist Ivan Espeche proved to be a wonder. And a prodigeously gifted singer. In a rich, expressive, sexy baritone, he delighted the audience with scintillating tango songs, bearing the dramatic, emotive style of the late great French actor/singer, Yves Montand. Michael Buble could learn a lot, a lot! from this dynamo. Not all of the slections were of the lost love, gained love, I hate you - I love you variety. One funny number stood out. It was a band composition in praise of an hugely admired Argentine footballer. As the band bounced into the number, Espeche rapid-tongued a Spanish play-by-play of their hero in action culiminating with a beautifully timed, "Goallllllllllll" to bring the piece to its finish.
Announcement of the final number drew a loud and dismayed chorus of "Awwww" from the wanting-more throng. The cheering led to an encore, fittingly enough, the tango Al Pacino danced to in the flick, Scent Of A Woman.How appropriate. Perfect capper. Eso!