The Noir Of It

10 April 2012 | 8:06 am | Michael Smith

"I guess it was always an idea at the start to not necessarily be a tango band,” the band's founder and principal composer, guitarist and keyboards player Julian Curwin admits with a laugh, “but have the word tango in the name anyway. I didn't know how viable that idea was.”

And the 'tango' quota on the collective's latest, once again diverse third album, Shadows And Fog, is certainly lower than on either of the previous two albums – the 2006 self-titled debut and 2008's Transylvania. “We've always been Morricone versus Piazzolla,” Curwin explains, name checking the composers Ennio and Ástor respectively, “So this one is very Morricone I guess, perhaps subconsciously. When I devise my albums, they sort of start with an idea and then follow in that direction. So it got the crime, the film noir thing happening early on and that sort of set the rest of the composition, in a weird kind of way.”

The Tango Saloon was initially a solo recording project for which Curwin, who had then been playing with Monsieur Camembert for several years, called on a large number of mostly jazz musicians to develop the pieces he was composing. Blending tango – Piazzolla – and spaghetti Western – Morricone – sounds with film noir, rock, gypsy, jazz and electronic elements, it quickly became obvious that there was a core group willing to pursue the musical journey with him. “The first album was more me trying to just get this music recorded and so I was actually, 'I'll get this person or I'll get that person'. But then the people who really reacted and said, 'Yes, I'll come and play live' was a slightly smaller group. So since then, those people have become very important to the project and has become a little family of musicians and a very personality-driven project.”

On stage then, The Tango Saloon is basically a nine-piece, but this can expand with any number of guests or strip back to the 2010-instituted Mango Balloon, a “chamber”, mostly quartet version. While most of members are coming from a jazz background, the music they make as The Tango Saloon is very concise; the tracks for the most part short, sharp expositions rather than lengthy improvisation. “It's always been a thing for me to definitely avoid improvisation for improvisation's sake, so if you can say it with a one-minute melody and it doesn't really ask for more, then I don't give it more. Then again there is the track, Crimewave, [on the new album] which goes for about seven minutes. I've got the other projects as well, like The Mango Balloon for example, which almost its mission statement is to explore into the musicians' expressing themselves a little more. So I guess The Tango Saloon is more the soundtrack cue type album; each piece could literally be forty seconds or a minute just to get the idea across.”

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Curwin also unleashes the “electric” guitarist inside far more on Shadows And Fog than on previous albums. “Yeah,” he admits with another laugh. “In the actual mixing process, it got a bit more, 'Oh wow, it's really heavy guitar!' And yeah... I guess that comes with the territory of Morricone... And I guess in a strange way, this album and the last both have the dark aspect and they both have thirteen tracks [laughs].”