Tango de Saxos | Nexas Quartet


Image by Jacquie Manning

Saxophone quartet Nexas Quartet bring some of the best of South American tango music to the stage in this lively summer concert. Spanning decades from 1940s classics to brand new work, the quartet and their special guests delighted the audience from start to finish.

Opening with Argentinian classics of the tango genre by the great composer Astor Piazzolla, the group established themselves quickly passionate and well-practised in this big style of music. Tango is about passion and the big moments in life like birth, love, and death. The song “Suite de Angel” was a representative choice of the genre with its three parts covering the life, death, and resurrection of an Argentinian angel. A crowd favourite was Carlos Gardel’s “Scent of a Woman”, a tango song made internationally famous with the Al Pacino movie of the same name.

These men play beautifully together with clear consideration of the other group members. Each part of the soprano (Michael Duke), alto (Andrew Smith), tenor (Nathan Henshaw), or baritone (Jay Byrnes) is in conversation with the other players as they pass rifts and melodies around the quartet and back again.

The first half of the concert, in which only the quartet played, mixed tango classics with two new pieces written for this program. The quartet commissioned a tango from composer Fernando Lerman and it had its world premiere in this concert program. This suite had a rich narrative as Lerman recreated the atmosphere of three of Buenos Aires’s surrounding barrios. In this piece the saxophones seem to walk down these familiar streets, sometimes meandering, taking time, and other times picking up the pace for undisclosed reasons. This style of tango allows for the varying textures of each saxophone and its player to differentiate and blend complexly while also maintaining a very engaging rhythm.

The second debut piece was titled “Zapatos de Roberto” and was written by soprano saxophonist Michael Duke. He encouraged the audience to envisage a proud Argentinian man showing off his precious shoes in a Buenos Aires club. This piece was wild into its overlapping and building, full of energy and excitement, breathless in its comparative brevity.

After interval, the concert presented two special guests for the audience’s delight. Firstly, Daniel Rojas, the Chilean-Australian pianist, wowed with a lively rendition of some freshly arranged work. Rojas is one of the most enthusiastic piano players out there and his control of the keys is clear as he shifts between fingers, wrist, and elbow effortlessly and with style. He was soon joined by Stephen Cuttress on the bandoneon, an instrument typical in tango music and ensembles. The two played in intricate harmony even while crashing through the deep emotions of the tango.

It was when the quartet returned to the stage to join Rojas and Cuttress that the room came fully alive. They gathered to play the four parts of Antonio Vivaldi’s “the Four Seasons” arranged for saxophone by Piazzolla and retitled “the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”. Ignoring the conventional order, the group played the seasons “Verano (Summer)”, “Invierno (Winter)”, “Otoño (Autumn)”, and finishing with “Primavera (Spring)”. This piece has an epic quality in the way it builds a story out of sound, feeling, connotation, memory, and imagination across enormous crescendos and lonely, mournful stretches. The combination of the six musicians was loud and lively, creating an authentic South American sound in the middle of North Sydney. Even as the rhythms became discordant or broken, this is the kind of music that begs to be danced to.

The Nexas Quartet with guests Daniel Rojas and Stephen Cuttress played Tango de Saxos at the Independent Theatre on February 24th


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