Madrigals -- from the Latin matricalis, "of the mother" -- were popular in 13th/14th century Italy and 16th/17th century England as songs for multiple, usually unaccompanied, voices. The word also connotes a short pastoral or love poem suitable to be sung as a madrigal. Alas, the location "Buenos Aires" and pointer "early fusion" as well as the sub header "Argentine Tangos & Italian Madrigals" on the present m.a. recordings issue immediately stretches expectations. Is this some kind of musical terra nova in the very successful vein of Séra Una Noche and its successor, La Segunda, on the same label?
One glance at the ensemble's makeup confirms similarities: There's Andrea de Carlo on double bass, viola de gamba and harmonica; Sabina Colonna-Prety on viola da gamba and lirone; Martin Zeller on viola da gamba and baroque cello; Gabriel Rivano on bandoneon; Fabrizio Zanella on violins; Francisco Gato and Eduardo Egüez on lutes and various guitars; and Ximena Biondo and Furio Zanasi on vocals. The programme divides into the sections "Migraciones", "Soledad", Chiaroscuro", Ausencia", "Ballo" and "Sueño". The color coding of the 21 tracks in the liner notes indicates Argentina and Italy as respective origins, thus suggesting that this project was primarily interested in the juxtaposition of two worlds and their styles, rather than overlaying them in the hopes of creating a seamless hybrid.
This isn't entirely true. The first appearance of the improvised bandoneon on "Ancor che co'l partire" which, otherwise, is a scored baroque/Medieval piece, corrects our assumptions and, conceptually as well as in how well it works, recalls Jan Garbarek's exploits with the Hilliard ensemble. Madrigal's fluid transitions quickly erase real and envisioned boundaries to reveal a surprising amount of common ground between the centuries and continents, some historical, some perhaps only imaginary - but only a music historian would stand a chance to distinguish, such is the zipper-like intermeshing and resultant sense of wholeness and coherence. Astounding, actually. Who woulda thunk?
What could have remained a bravely original pitch looking far better on paper than ringing true on location -- the Italian Parrocchia di S. Vittore of Agrate/Conturbia -- turns out to be a supremely natural affair that gains immeasurably from the contrasts of the warm timbres of the bowed baroque string instruments and the sharper, more incisive attacks of the bandoneon and harmonica; the tempestuous, nearly violent vocalizing of tango versus the controlled, articulated and over-enunciated Italian counterparts mimicking the rapid legato-and-trills instrumental playing styles of the day.
In fact, Buenos Aires Madrigal is as brilliant at fashioning a new cohesive musical reality as Abed Azrié. was in the creation of his fictitious court in Suerte that juxtaposed Sumerian, Moorish, Flamenco and Arabian worlds, or Carlos Nuñez with Brotherhood of the Stars that integrated Galician, Flamenco, Cuban and Gaelic/Irish influences. Is credit for the present example due to the ensemble La Chimera - the listed musicians minus the two guest singers? To label maven Todd Garfinkle whose batting average with these cross-cultural hybrid experimentations is unusually high? I don't know. It seems safest to acknowledge them all and compliment them on a stunning achievement that combines first-rate musicianship, m.a.'s usual high recording and production values and, most importantly, some very unusual contextual twists that should delight casual listeners and trained musicians alike. It's the third section of the triptych begun with Séra and Segunda. Those who habitually belabor the dearth of original music in today's corporate hit factory mentality merely need to start looking in different places - and Madrigal qualifies with a vengeance. How about it?