1, Escualo by Astor Piazzolla
2, Verano Porteno by Piazzolla
3, Pimienta by Osvaldo Fresedo
4, Irresistible by Lorenzo Logatti (version Juan D’Arienzo)
5, Pollo ricardo (arranged by Carlos di Sarli)
6, Mi Refugio by Juan Carlos Cobian (arr. by Nestor Marconi)
7, Ella es Asi by Manuel Carretero (version by Donato)
8, La Yumba by Osvaldo Pugliese
9, Desde el Alma — Tango vals by Rosita Melo (version by Pugliese)
10, Comme il faut by Carlos di Sarli
11, Negracha by Pugliese
12, Chique by Ricardo Brignolo (version Pugliese)
13, Milonga del Angel by Piazzolla (the slow one)
14, Patetico by Pugliese
15, Adios nonino by Piazzolla
16, Tocata Rea by Piazzolla
17, Poliya by Osvaldo Fresedo
18, Lagrimas y Sonrisas by Pascual de Gullo (version Biagi)
19, Loca by Juan D’Arienzo
20, Primavera Portena by Piazzolla
21, La Cumparsita by Gerardo matos Rodriguez (version Juan D’Arienzo)
Hong Kong’s music fans know they can expect something new and different every time from Chris B’s nights, but Rock and Tango went above and beyond usual themes. The mostly seated crowd had an average age about 40 years higher than usual: it was clear that The Underground was stepping into bold new territory. Many of the audience members were related to Chris B, as her cousin Winnie Cheung was a performer in the first band, Cuarteto Tanguero, bringing the “tango” to the two-part event.
The dapper four-piece drew from across the musical spectrum, incorporating elements of waltz, jazz and classical into a collection of Latin-rooted sounds. The sound of Matt McConahay’s creative double bass drumming opened the show, before Ben Bogart’s bandoneon and Daniel Stein’s violin joined in to give a Balkan/European flavour. The song – Astor Piazolla’s Escualo “The Shark” – was dark and brisk; perfect for Halloween. “I like to think the shark won,” said Bogart, sinisterly.
Another Piazzolla piece, Verano Porteno, was one of the most intriguing songs of the night. The slinking track evoked a hectic European street scene, with the violin vibrato mimicking cars going by. Barefoot pianist Cheung played a marching rhythm, alongside dissonant, slapped bass strings. The strings and Bogart used changes in pace to conjure up romance, before transitioning to thumping staccato from all instruments. Stein segued from a dramatic circus highwire sound to something more closely resembling a scratchy duck-like quacking, then Cheung levelled off the piece with a sweeping glissando.
That wasn’t the only avian influence that could be heard: on next song, the waltzy Pimienta by Osvaldo Fresedo, the bandoneon was pumped in short blasts for a squawky chicken sound next to a country-inspired bassline using bouncing fourths. A large space had been left clear in front of the stage to encourage dancing but, in the slightly stuffy early songs, it wasn’t clear anyone would take up the offer. It took Chris B climbing onstage to tell people that, yes; it was okay to dance, before anyone set foot on the floor. After the first couple began twirling and snaking to the beat, the atmosphere relaxed.
Throughout the performance, it was impossible to tell which musician was most skilled, as each shone bright in their individual sections. However, one of the highlights was when Bogart stole the spotlight with the solo Mi Refugio by Juan Carlos Cobian, as arranged by Nestor Marconi. His performance was emotionally sensitive and dynamic, changing tone and tempo to conjure a rather dark fairground waltzing aesthetic, and showing off the skill and versatility of his instrument. The room was left spellbound by this deeply captivating display. The concertina was finally drawn out for a shuddering final wheeze, as if in exhaustion.
More people joined the dance floor from here on – even a Freddie Mercury lookalike showed off some slightly unorthodox moves as the quartet powered through the rest of the setlist. Ostentatious classical romantic sections dallied with joyful, whimsical moods, while the energy crackled both on the stage and beneath it.
After 10 songs it was time for a short break. The second part opened with the bossa nova styling of Pugliese’s Negracha, recalling the Gotan Project in its complex basslines. For Brignolo’s Chique, Bogart took the lead with low bass stabs from Cheung and flowing romance from Stein to create a piece that suggested a touch of the Amelie soundtrack.
Piazzolla’s slow and passionate Milonga del Angel combined contemplative, dramatic piano chords, echoing Rachmaninoff or Chopin, with plodding root to fifth bass note cycles and twiddly bandoneon. Violin drone accompanied heavy key hits before a tremolo effect finish.
With the same ingredients used in each piece and the distraction of the dancers, the songs began to blend into one another. The style broadly alternated between smooth, sweeping and romantic, to effervescent and jubilant staccato sections. Stein scratched his violin below the bridge for a rubbery effect on Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino, before Bogart took a meandering segment into fantastical harmonies blossoming with optimism.
Tocata Rea, another Piazzolla, had hints of the Masters of Sex opening theme within heavy, stodgy piano arpeggios, quirky bandoneon, and cool rattlesnake string-hitting by McConahay. Pieces with a more dance bent wound the set to a cavorting close. Finally the band went with the silky-smooth La Cumparsita for the grand encore and the applause seemed to last minutes.
Overall, Cuarteto Tanguero showed stunning musicianship and flair, bringing a youthful energy to a fun and lively genre. At almost two hours, the lengthy performance didn’t balance with Shotgun Politics’ brisk punk set that followed. However, Rock and Tango was an inspired formula that brought the electric tango quartet to Wanchai and delighted a roomful of music fans who otherwise may not have tried an Underground show.
– El Jay