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Anti-Swing Objective

Tosca takes up arms against a watered-down craze. Its secret weapon? Tango.

In fact, it was the work of Piazzolla that first got Gill thinking.
"When I was playing with 8 1/2 Souvenirs, I wrote a rumba for them -- which is on their second record, Souvonica -- entitled 'Tango Lunatico,' " says Gill. "Then a friend of mine here in Austin gave me an Astor Piazzolla CD, and I went absolutely ape. I didn't listen to anything else for a week or two; it was ridiculous."

Says Gill of Piazzolla, "He revolutionized tango, adding modern harmony and rhythms and jazz bass lines. We're talking about a tradition here [more than a century] old, and he took it up to three levels higher. Some of the traditionalists thought it was too radical, and they didn't like it."

Gill certainly did, and he took to tango like a kid to a new chemistry set. When the rest of the Souvenirs noticed that Gill's sideline interest was becoming a full-time obsession, they politely suggested that he find other play companions. "I presented one of my tangos to the Souvenirs, and they were so challenged by it that it just never happened," he recalls. "The singer, Juliana Sheffield, said, 'Glover, you need five of you to pull this off.' "

Glover took the hint.

Taking his inspiration from Piazzolla's interpretation of tango's future, Gill began acquiring converts to his cause. He recruited Luis Guerra, bassist for offbeat Austin outfit Ta Mere. The rest of the group he found through the University of Texas's School of Music, feeding them crucial bits of tango history as he went along. The current lineup includes pianist Jeanine Attaway, cellist Sara Nelson, viola player Ames Asbell and violinists Leigh Mahoney and Tom Sender. In Sender, Gill also found an eager composer, and the two of them went to work honing the material that would inevitably make up the bulk of La Furia del Tango, Tosca's debut CD.

In an odd twist that is vintage Gill, he took the name "Tosca" from another genre completely. "It's from the Puccini opera by the same title," he says. "Tosca was the heroine of the opera. Everybody dies in the end; it's very sad."

With his new band solidified, Gill parted ways with 8 1/2 Souvenirs amicably in March of this year, just weeks before RCA reissued the Souvenirs' indie debut, Happy Feet. Around that time, La Furia del Tango was released on Tosca's own Nois Records. ("No bar code; no e-mail; no web site," it drolly states on the disc's back cover.) In the end, eight of La Furia's 12 tracks would be Gill's, the album filled out by a single contribution from Sender (the enchanting "El Sol Sale"), a Gill arrangement of a piece by Christian Fernandez ("Tango") and a Tosca rendition of Piazzolla's incendiary "Four, for Tango."

Overall, Gill shows considerable first-time flair in his attempts to move tango off the dance floor and into the living room. His structures are just inventive enough, his melodies contemporary yet familiar enough, the group's execution moving enough to seal La Furia's keeper status. It's more than just a conversation piece; it's a fun and moving listen.

Even so, the album was never meant to be anything but a well-applied primer for tango's full-body experience. Currently, Tosca has regular slots at three Austin venues, including the Continental Club. And its weekly shows at the Orchid Lounge in Houston are expected to continue indefinitely.

"You get your hard-core tango fanatics; you get your curiosity-seekers of all ages," says Gill of Tosca's broad audience. "Occasionally, a regular of any bar will accidentally trip across us and either love us or hate us. If they love us, then they're back every week. You even get your old-school tango fanatics who have the same opinion of us as some traditionalists had of Piazzolla. But they keep coming back anyway, because we're the only tango orchestra in the state."

Tosca performs Wednesdays in November at the Orchid Lounge, 2415 Dunstan. Showtime is 10 p.m. Cover is $5. Free tango lessons from 9 to 10 p.m. For info, call 524-0228.

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