D’Arienzo – 1935–1939
The 116 recordings with his second orchestra are of major importance to danceable Argentine tango
Had Carlos Gardel – the most famous exponent of melancholy and successful, but undanceable Tango Canción – not died in a plane crash in 1935; had Juan D’Arienzo not stirred up a revival of that more cheerful type of tango that was popular in former times – the Epoca de Oro, the golden fourties, would likely never have taken place. And today, we would hardly dance any Argentine tango. From mid-1935 onwards, D’Arienzo’s revival made mass audiences dance again after years of stagnation – obviously, the global economic crisis also had something to do with that -, thus helping the Argentine tango to experience an unparalleled commercial and creative boom.
The significance of the repertoire of this re-edition
For most of his life, Juan D’Arienzo was seriously affected by the fact that many virtuoso and pioneering exponents of Argentine tango were sneering at this great accomplishment and its creator. Troilo, one of the most innovative exponents of the 1940ies himself, never had such a small-minded attitude. He had always been of the opinion that the creative and artistic variety of the 40ies could not have evolved without D’Arienzo’s coup of 1935. Therefore, he used to tell his hotheads where to get off whenever they were bitching about D’Arienzo. The reason why thousands of musicians were able to earn a living in Buenos Aires and Montevideo in the 1940ies was that D’Arienzo had laid the foundation for that boom from 1935 onwards.
Even today, 80 years after this turning point in the history of Argentine tango, some academics in Argentina and also dancers all over the world try to belittle D’Arienzo, falsifying an aspect of cultural history in the process. In reality, this orchestra is the backbone of any good traditional milonga. Arguably, a certain delicacy of feeling and some imagination may be required to discern from the mostly poor restorations of D’Arienzo’s second orchestra that brilliant creative achievement which captivated mass audiences at that time and set the course in terms of both music and dance.
Not many conductors have managed to realise 116 recordings – 114 without the two polkas not included in the TangoTunes re-edition -, all of them danceable and on a high level of creativity: in terms of composition and text, arrangement and style of playing, in the studio over a period of four and a half years.
This achievement per se goes to belie any critic trying to ascribe mediocrity to D’Arienzo in that phase of his creativeness.
The end of decades of incompleteness
Strangely, except for the LPs and CDs of the Japanese label CTA and some Argentinian bootlegs, no complete re-edition of these recordings has been available for several decades – with obvious negative effects on reviews. Even many contemporaries have forgotten – over the course of decades – what D’Arienzo has accomplished in the second half of the 1930ies, and how fascinating the live sound of this orchestra was at the time. What an experience to listen to these 114 sound recordings without interruption in chronological order! In this way, not only many details but also quite a few associations become discernible. It is the great hope of TangoTunes that this re-edition may contribute to initiate a reversal in the perception of D’Arienzo’s most important creative phase.
Over this creative period of 54 months, a certain development and improvement is clearly perceptible. D’Arienzo started out quite cautiously with mostly instrumental, but modern Guardia Vieja compositions entirely arranged for dancers, and only after more than a year – Biagi had been the man at the piano for many months already – he finds that inimitable, powerful sound that immediately makes agile dancers ecstatic, putting a happy smile on their face. Until mid-1937, the orchestra also recorded a great number of valses that were met with great enthusiasm by the audience.
El rey del compás
Discussions about what precisely D’Arienzo does in musical terms during those four and a half years still invariably result in fierce debates. His musical signature, that especially beat-heavy sound, in a way resembles our heartbeat: strong, dominant, hard to stop. Some say that for this purpose, D’Arienzo went back to two-four time, from the four-four time established by De Caro. Others think that D’Arienzo switched to four-eight time.
Anyway, the discussion is futile because it is essentially an issue regarding the notation of sheet music. D’Arienzo, on the other hand, concerned himself with the needs of dancers exclusively, because he realised that Argentine tango could only be mainstream where musicians uncompromisingly met the needs of dancers. One and the same piece may basically be notated in two-four, four-four or four-eight time, even if usually one of these variants will make more sense than the others. Musicians willing to go for the special needs of dancers entirely will naturally wish for the notation to be oriented along those lines. Dancers, on the other hand, don’t know anything about the notation of the music. They listen and move along the lines of dos por quatro: left – and – right – and… in Argentine tango; this pattern is best conveyed to musicians by using a notation in two-four time.
D’Arienzo is rightly called El rey del compás: the king of the beat..
All instruments were primarily played staccato. One might even say, the beat dominates – not only the rhythm, but often even the tune. On the other hand, the first violin provides some counterpoise again and again: with tunes that are exclusively played on the lowest string, sounding more like a viola than a violin – playing with the cuarta cuerda.
Anyone accusing D’Arienzo’s “supersound” of those years of being sort of nervous or dirty has never had the privilege to listen to tempo-adjusted restorations that are well made. For us dancers, the present re-edition once and for all reveals this fairy tale to be plain nonsense. The musicians play in a very precise and inspired manner. They permanently offer the dancers a playful dialogue – using, among other things, syncopations, but also countless shades of the style of playing to provide further accents. And what is extremely important: there is always a lot of room between the notes, facilitating orientation as the music progresses.
Yes, this orchestra does make highly commercial music. Just like many other orchestras at that time. But not all of them were as successful as D’Arienzo. And all of D’Arienzo’s musicians play music on a very high level at all times. These recordings offer pure professionalism – throughout. But: all the details and the entire fascination are only perceptible through high-quality restorations.
The creative forces of this Gran Orquesta
For reasons of space, we are not going to relate the many anecdotes about this orchestra, for instance the reasons for separating from Biagi. The pianist was replaced twice in those years.
From 2 July until 12 December 1935, Lidio Fasoli was sitting at the piano in the recording studio – 10 recordings.
From 31 December 1935 until 22 June 1938, Biagi was at the piano – 66 recordings. For D’Arienzo, his style of playing was to become the standard by which every new pianist was measured forever after his departure.
From 8 July 1938 until 22 December 1939, Juan Polito was at the piano – 40 recordings.
From 2 February until 12 December 1938, the Gran Orquesta D’Arienzo comprised eight musicians.
Double bass Rodolfo Duclós
Bandoneon Domingo Moro, Faustino Taboada, Juan Visciglio
Violin Alfredo Mazzeo, León Zibaico, Domingo Mancuso
From 31 December 1935 until 22 December 1939, the orchestra was extended, now comprising eleven musicians.
Reinforcing the bandoneon section José della Roca, Adolfo Ferrero
Reinforcing the violin section Francisco Mancini
Three singers have worked for this orchestra. In 1936, four recordings were made with Walter Cabral, only one with Enrique Carbel in 1937, and 27 recordings with Alberto Echagüe in 1938/39.
According to some sources, D’Arienzo worked with two double-bass players in 1939. Until this day, it has not been possible to verify this information. Apart from D’Arienzo himself, Biagi as pianist plus Echagüe as singer were formative influences upon his second orchestra. Both have contributed to make the band even more modern and more popular.
At that time, D’Arienzo was a megastar
It hardly makes sense to highlight individual recordings. Far too many of these 114 recordings are three-minute gems with a claim to immortality. And every music-lover, every dancer, every TJ has different preferences.
It is a fact, however, that D’Arienzo was so incredibly successful in the market with these recordings for months on end that the record factory of RCA Victor in Buenos Aires was frequently not able, for weeks on end, to produce records in sufficient quantities.
Therefore, record stores would sometimes sell their D’Arienzos only to customers willing to also buy another gramophone record of another orchestra. D’Arienzo’s success became so overwhelming that, towards the end of the 1930ies, hardly any tango orchestra could afford to not reflect, in some way or other, the impulses provided by this megatrend in their own work.
D’Arienzo’s success in those years was also based on the fact that he was active in all three sectors which the music market in Buenos Aires had to offer at that time. Apart from recording contracts with RCA Victor Argentina, D’Arienzo had managed to conclude a contract with the El Mundo radio station, opened in Buenos Aires in 1935 – acronym LR1 -, that soon became quite dominant in Buenos Aires and disposed of highly modern and very generously equipped studios. Moreover, D’Arienzo’s was the resident orchestra of one the city’s most famous night clubs, the Cabaret Chantecler. These three marketing channels made sure that D’Arienzo was omnipresent day in day out in the public sphere of the megalopolis of Buenos Aires. In those years, D’Arienzo accordingly was on everyone’s lips – non-stop.
Devotees of De Caro‘s evolution, instead of blaming the audience for this fierce mainstream pressure, rather put the blame on D’Arienzo himself. Only late in 1937, early in 1938, Laurenz with Arrabal and Troilo with Comme il faut managed to establish these brilliant recordings as precursors of an alternative concept for danceable Argentine tango, thereby putting D’Arienzo’s role as innovator and pioneer to the test, since he was somewhat hidebound after all. But as D’Arienzo improved again in those months, engaging an excellent singer – Echagüe – who perfectly suited the drive and punch of the orchestra, D’Arienzo managed nevertheless to maintain his leading role until the end of 1939.
TangoTunes’ first Golden Ear re-edition
For this re-edition, TangoTunes has newly transferred and restored all recordings from shellac records using professional restoration techniques – mostly analog, with as little digital frippery as possible. The shellac records were equalised in a technically correct way applying utmost care. No destructive algorithms were used to purportedly enhance the restorations. No resonance was used to conceal shoddy craftsmanship. And the whole poison chest of pop music was left untouched.
This process requires the skills and experience of a sound editor within the team whose fields of work are analogue instruments and classical music. The motto here is “do it right – and right from the start”, instead of repairing any defects later, often only making things worse. Any other approach is bound to fail in case of restorations of recordings of acoustic instruments. Re-editions prepared in this way by TangoTunes are symbolically marked with the addition Golden Ear.
Today, many consumers that are not familiar with analogue sound carriers expect a clinically pure CD sound without any running noises of the shellac record. Since, however, the running noises of a shellac record share one and the same frequency range with the music signal, it is impossible to remove the running noises, even with shellac records in the best condition conceivable, without destroying parts of the music signal, thus damaging the sound balance.
Of course, developers of algorithms for restoration purposes have promised the moon for close on two decades. Unfortunately, however, they have not managed to keep their promises until this day.
Originally, these tools were developed for the army and the secret services: bugging technology with speech intelligibility being the central aspect – not sound quality through minimally invasive algorithms. The only algorithms that do not cause too much damage to the music if used with moderately set parameters and only partially are declickers.
Accordingly, running noises of the shellac record will always be audible on many TangoTunes re-editions of the Golden Ear series. Otherwise, voices sound thin, instruments metallic, details are lost, and the massively thickened sound – full of artefacts – does no longer have any resonating bodies that sound natural. When this happens, the music lacks a foundation and accordingly points of reference for the ear. However, only high-quality audio technology – whether analogue or digital – is able to reproduce such top-quality restorations without amplifying the running noises.
Musical archaeology may be highly contemporary
Whenever there are shellac records in good condition, the results of these Golden Ear processes are more than gratifying. Musical details will emerge from the fog of history that were missing for all too long.
There is no denying that the double bass still is a little too meek. This weak point of the former setup and the technology available in the recording studio at that time can only be compensated for in part, even today. And even this can only be achieved if optimal source material is available. The bass recording level of each record is limited due to physical principles. But the notes of the double bass have regained their shape. These are spiral strings, and you can hear whether they are bowed or plucked. No longer does the bass get lost within the range of instruments, it is no longer confused with a tuba. And when the bass player makes the strings suddenly fall silent by quickly twisting the bow to make the wooden stick hit them in order to spur the dancers even further, this is clearly audible.
The omnipotent sounding board of the killer concert grand has grown up – physically perceptible at the bottom, intriguingly present in the middle and excruciatingly rapid at the top. Whenever the pianist so desires, this instrument turns from a jack-of-all-trades of immediate elemental force into a subtle seducer, all the while remaining the resolutely resonant guardrail for the entire orchestra.
The violin – and not only that of the first violinist – finally regains that resonating body somewhere between bittersweet flavoured double cream and whipped crème fraiche which virtuosos are able to extract from a good instrument in order to inspire the dancers to take it easy for one or two double phrases in between. Even the pizzicati plucked on the other side of the bridge have a resonating body, and you can hear very well that this is not De Caro’s horn-violin that is playing.
Because the sound of the entire combo still remains slim and willowy even if it rocks, the bandoneon section is always clearly and markedly separate from the violin section. This is because none of the notes is squashed to pulp by algorithms. Even if all the instruments play together, each of them is perceptible individually. Even the mechanics of the bandoneon are audible on repeated occasions, as if calling out to us: live, live, live!
Due to the setup used in the studio of RCA Victor in Buenos Aires in 1935, with one microphone – RCA’s bi-directional ribbon microphone BX-44 -, the double bass and especially the piano do not yet have the presence provided by the recordings from 1937 onwards, with several microphones. As of 1937, at least two BX-44 were used. Some of these changes are audible from August 1936 already, but can hardly ever be verified by photos taken in the recording studio, because such details were treated as trade secrets by the labels. Even decades later it was a common thing to change the setup of the microphones in the recording studio when pictures were taken, so that competitors were not able to draw any conclusions.
No tempo by hook or by crook any more – at last!
Additionally, all transfers of TangoTunes are painstakingly brought to the correct tempo – based on the formerly common standard pitch of 435 Hz. This is the responsibility of an instrument maker and musician within the team. The precision of the corrections is around five cents, corresponding to one twentieth of a semitone, which enhances these recordings even more, as for dancers, in particular, there is more tranquillity owing to a consistent fundament being present across all recordings that provides our ear with some guidance without a need for permanent re-adjustment. In this way, the progress of the music becomes understandable quite easily. For, the tempo corruptions – often too fast – that have been common so far not only cause a shift of the standard pitch that the instruments were tuned to. They also change – and this is fatal – the intrinsic basic sound that each instrument permanently contributes to the music regardless of current tuning and pitch played – the individual timbre of each instrument.
Dancers with a claim to interpret the music, instead of just going through pre-fabricated routines, will discover some details in many of these recordings allowing them to dance these D’Arienzos in a more subtle, more playful way, but also with more accents and coherence. The style of playing that is so uncompromisingly tuned to the needs of the dancers – with countless rough edges everywhere – literally calls for this.
This enhancement of dancing pleasure is simply in the air, you can almost smell it. Just listening and sitting it out is hardly possible for dyed-in-the-wool dancers, because certain muscles will start a dialogue with the music of their own, while you are still thinking about how you want to put this or that musical accent into your dance, and how you can manage to express as much of this newly discovered wealth with your whole body.
There is always a But that we have to put up with
If no shellac records in good condition are available, the results of this Golden Ear process are considerably poorer for the time being. As soon as TangoTunes manages to obtain better shellac records of these recordings, improved restorations will be handed in later. TangoTunes would be very pleased if collectors all over the world took this as a hint to leave the privacy of their homes and to cooperate with TangoTunes. TangoTunes is permanently on the lookout for record collections that are up for sale or can be rented for a short period of time.
The work with these shellac records has shown that their qualities are brought to bear quite wonderfully in the digital domain at a resolution of 24 bit/96 kHz. These restorations cope delightfully well with a reduction to the resolution of Red-Book-CDs, 16-bit-dithered/44.1 kHz, although some authenticity, part of the richness of the sound is lost. Only in case of high-quality shellac records will these recordings reasonably tolerate a reduction of the data using the M4A Codec. With all other shellac records – and we will never be able to exclude them entirely in future – the latter, just like all other lossy codes, will disproportionately amplify artefacts and distortions, recording and moulding errors, and especially the running noises of the record that are spread over the entire frequency range. The deterioration occurring in the process is considerable.
Therefore, TangoTunes does not offer any lossy version within the scope of Golden Ear compilations. Hard disk space has been so cheap for many years that lossy audio formats gradually lose their raison d’être. Anyone who cannot handle high-resolution data, or refuses to do so, will find a perfectly functioning alternative in the version with Red-Book-CD resolution, which is just as easy to handle as M4A and takes along all important tags, since AIFF is used as the data format. TangoTunes would like to advise all TJs against converting, on their own, one of the two available formats using a lossy codec. It would not do justice to these restorations.
The ravages of time driving innovation
Maybe half a decade will have to pass before all quality-minded TJs and organisers of traditional milongas will have implemented all consequences necessarily resulting from this re-edition of a fundamental part of the core repertoire of danceable Argentine tango.
For instance, many TJs and organisers will want to improve their technology at some time or other. For, if furnished with that sound, the addictive potential of D’Arienzo’s second orchestra, which has always been exceedingly high, is multiplied considerably.
Whether you take Ataniche or El cachafaz, Corazon de artista or Pasión, La bruja or Mandria, Don Pacifico or Por qué razón – at that level of quality, these three-minute gems have not been available for sale anywhere in the last decades. If you listen to the best of these restorations with the support of potent studio technology with far-field full-range monitors at live volume, you will get the impression to sit in the same room with the musicians of that time. Not only Biagi and Echagüe, Moro and Mazzeo become almost palpable in the imaginary room. This is magic. In this way, the aficionados among us have finally come a little closer to that time machine, long overdue, that I have been trying to order from the car dealer around the corner every year in January. Intending, of course, to do a trial trip immediately – to 22 June 1938, Buenos Aires Capital Federal. But this year, I am going to ignore the car dealer for the first time. All I say is: pensalo bien.
Christian Tobler in January 2015 for TangoTunes
(originally posted and translated from German)