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“Navidad de Los Andes” (Andean nativity) marks the birth of a new group, albeit one whose members share much history. Brothers Dino and Felix Saluzzi have more than 60 years of collaborations behind them. They started making music together as children in Argentina, and saxophonist and clarinettist Felix (nine years younger than his bandoneonist brother) has often been heard in Dino’s “family band” projects, documented on ECM albums including “Mojotoro” and “Juan Condori”.

German cellist Anja Lechner has worked closely with Dino Saluzzi since the mid-1990s, beginning with the “Kultrum” alliance between Saluzzi and the Rosamunde Quartet. She has also toured widely in duo with Dino, recording with him on the critically-acclaimed “Ojos Negros” in 2006. As Saluzzi said at the time, “Anja has become part of the music without losing her own identity. I think this is very important. She doesn’t try to imitate the tango players. She has her own sound, and this makes our project together culturally richer.”

Anja Lechner and clarinet and sax man Felix Saluzzi appeared as soloists on Dino’s orchestral recording “El Encuentro”, made in 2009 with Holland’s Metropole Orchestra under the direction of Jules Buckley. And both musicians were present again at a celebration of Dino’s music at the Atina Festival in Italy last year, just days before the present session, where the cast on stage also included John Surman, Palle Mikkelborg, U.T. Gandhi and Ares Tavolazzi.
For all such historical overlappings, however, the trio has a special and distinct character: the music on “Navidad de Los Andes” can seem both simple and elusive, like the magical realist tales of South America. In the liner notes Argentinean poet and novelist Leopoldo Castilla (like the Saluzzis a native of the Salta region) writes: “In this beautiful musical work sound is born with the intensity of the wind and the powerful progression of the sand that preserves memories”. Memories carried by the wind: a fitting metaphor for this yearning music.

Dino Saluzzi has often thought of himself as a musical storyteller and in the pieces gathered here we may perceive sounds of birds in the mountain forests, or catch glimpses of dance halls and village churches. A lot of life is here. The three musicians have arrived at a very unique sound-blend, integrating bandoneon, cello, clarinet and saxophone in a chamber music format that breathes with the apparent effortlessness of folk music. Neither “jazz” nor “classical” nor tango in the strictest sense, temperamentally between the genres, Dino Saluzzi can hardly help but be ‘intercultural’, yet everything he touches is stamped with the force of his personality. “Navidad de Los Andes” features new compositions by Dino, as well as pieces freely adapted from his ‘formal’ concert music, and variations on music of some of the tango masters: José Padula (1893-1945), Carlos Gardel (1890-1935), Enrique Delfino (1895-1967). The trio make the journey through the music a most natural one, aided by the responsive acoustics of Lugano’s Auditorio Radiotelevisione Svizzera, the recital room that is one of ECM’s preferred locations.

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One of the most important figures in contemporary South American music, Dino Saluzzi was born in Campo Santo in North Argentina in 1935 and led his first group at the age of 14. He began to play professionally while studying in Buenos Aires. In 1956, Saluzzi returned to the district of Salta to concentrate on his compositions, now consciously incorporating folk music elements. It was not until the 1970s that he began to make recordings. His ECM discography was launched in 1982 with a solo album, a spontaneous example of the bandoneonist's art as "storyteller"; this marked the first of many "imaginary returns" to the little towns and villages of his childhood. From the beginning of the 1980s Saluzzi made numerous collaborations with European and American jazz musicians – amongst those initiated by ECM were meetings with Charlie Haden, Palle Mikkelborg and Pierre Favre ("Once Upon A Time - Far Away In The South”), with Enrico Rava ("Volver"), with Marc Johnson ("Cité de la Musique"), with Tomasz Stanko and John Surman (on Stanko's "From The Green Hill" album) and with Palle Danielsson ("Responsorium"). Of the 1996 recording “Kultrum” collaboration with the Rosamunde Quartet, Gramophone wrote “This particular recording is perhaps the best example I’ve yet heard of a music that rises naturally from its mixture of influences – here the South American tango and folk traditions and the European string quartet.” On “Navidad de Los Andes”, South American and European influences are further interwoven.

The spectrum of cellist Anja Lechner’s work is exceptionally broad, and takes in the classical tradition, contemporary music and improvisation in different traditions. She is a member of François Couturier’s Tarkovsky Quartet and the trio Melos with Vassilis Tsabropoulos and U.T. Gandhi. For 17 years Lechner was cellist with the Rosamunde Quartet, whose ECM albums include recordings of music of Tigran Mansurian, Valentin Silvestrov, Thomas Larcher, Ottmar Schoeck, Anton Webern, Dmitri Shostakovich, Joseph Haydn, and more. A final Rosamunde disc, with music of Boris Yoffe, performed in collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble, will be released by ECM New Series in September 2011.

Felix Saluzzi helped to create a role for the saxophone in the Tango Nuevo, with the terse, vocal tone of his tenor. As clarinettist he has played across a broader range of music and during the 1980s was clarinet soloist in the Orquesta Sinfónica de Buenos Aires.

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