What: Quartango (Victoria Tango Festival)
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: Alix Goolden Hall
Tickets: $26 in advance, $30 at the door. Available at Munro's Books, Martin Batchelor Gallery, La sociÃ©tÃ© francophone de Victoria, www.eventbrite.com, 778-432-0112 and
If you know Canadian tango music, you know the country's longest-performing ensemble Quartango, says the group's newest Victoria-based member, Jonathan Goldman.
"I used to listen to their recordings on cassette tape -- I loved their music," he said on the phone from Montreal. "When they started, there was nobody really doing that in Canada."
The headlining group for the fifth annual Victoria Tango Festival has presented tango infused with a smorgasbord of musical influences -- from jazz, classical and ragtime to Celtic, Cuban and Brazilian music -- for nearly 30 years. Quartango members have played with famed tango nuevo visionary Astor Piazzolla, joined the New York Pops on stage at Carnegie Hall and completed several world tours.
As good an indicator of the group's dynamism as any, Saturday's program includes a tango arrangement of Frank Zappa's Little Umbrellas. Festival organizer June Waters said Quartango's distinguished arrangements balanced with humour have had a lot to do with the group's popularity.
But with only one founding member remaining (artistic director and double-bass player RenÃ© Gosselin), the ensemble's longevity depends on injections of fresh blood.
"It can be hard to keep track of the genealogy of the group," said Goldman, who teaches musicology and music history at the University of Victoria. Goldman, who plays an 1938 German bandoneon -- an accordion-like instrument as natural to tango music as the guitar is to rock -- was also a member in 2007, before moving away for the UVic gig. (He rejoined the Montreal-based group this year, though Victoria remains his home base.)
With each new member comes a strong potential to influence Quartango's sound -- members share the spotlight democratically, in the same way that chamber ensemble musicians typically do.
"Each instrument is a soloist and the music is like a conversation between instruments," said Goldman. "What's nice about that is each person gets their chance to speak, to lead in a way. So the personalities really come through."
As a member of Quartango's predecessor -- Canada's first group dedicated to Argentine tango, Tango X 4 -- RamÃ³n Pelinski had a lot to do with Quartango's classical roots. More recently, Richard Hunt largely defined Quartango's sound as the group's most prolific arranger and composer, before he died last December.
The younger guard of new members has brought some grit, Goldman says.
While Goldman calls himself a traditionalist, he says pianist StÃ©phane Aubin's knack for improvisation has added some spontaneity.
At the same time, the players can't take full credit for infusing their music with varied influences. Goldman says that's part of the nature of tango, which formed in the mixing-pot of La Boca, a working-class port area in Buenos Aires, near the turn of the century. Immigrants from Spain, Italy, Poland, Russia and Africa gave tango its diverse bouquet of cultural influences.
"I think it just comes from the nature of tango itself -- it's not a pure nature, it's an impure one."
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