A concert by Argentina’s greatest bandoneon virtuoso? Sounds interesting, but wait a minute--exactly what is a bandoneon? An accordion with buttons instead of a piano-style keyboard? Hmmm. I just remembered a pressing engagement. . . .
But seriously, folks, Monday night’s performance at the Los Angeles Theatre Center by Argentine bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra did not , as might have been expected, feature endless variations on “Lady of Spain.” Starting the program with bassist Haden as his only accompanist, Saluzzi conducted a tour through an unfamiliar program of harmonically rich ballads (unannounced, but presumably Argentine).
Obviously familiar with American jazz pianists’ use of chromatic chord substitutions and extensions, Saluzzi extracted a remarkable array of organ-like textures from his deceptively simple-looking instrument. But his familiarity with jazz harmonic usage was not balanced by a similar acquaintance with jazz melodic articulation, and his lines tended to fall into the florid, highly decorative melodies typical of the Argentine tango style.
The program’s second half show-cased Haden’s 13-piece Liberation Music Orchestra in two long medleys--the first a collection of Latin-styled political anthems and themes from his “Ballad of the Fallen” album, the second featuring Saluzzi with the ensemble.
Curiously, given the leftist orientation of some of the original themes, the music focused on individual, rather than collective interpretations, with the composed sections simply serving as mild interludes between long, freely declaimed solos.
Among the best were guitarist Nils Cline’s unique blend of Flamenco and avant garde, Milcho Leviev’s Bartokian excursion through the history of jazz piano, John Carter’s remarkable clarinet harmonics and George Bohanon’s whimsically modernistic plunger-muted trombone playing.