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Argentinean bandoneonist-composer-improviser Dino Saluzzi returns to his roots with El Valle de la Infancia. Recorded at Saluzzi Music Studios in Buenos Aires, it’s the first of his discs to feature his “family band” since 2005’s Juan Condori. Here Dino is heard with his brother Felix on tenor sax and clarinet, his son José María on guitars, and nephew Matías on basses.

“This work is alive with different genres”, writes Leopoldo Castilla in the liner notes. “The music captures the natural world of its origins; North Argentina, ablaze with mourning, despairing with joy.” If it could be argued that all of Dino’s oeuvre is, at some level, about his homeland and his memories, the family discs are amongst its purest expressions. Its participants have grown up inside this world of music, and for Dino part of the pleasure of the family group is the possibility of creating without the need for directions. “We do this work for a long time now. I have a lot of trust in José and Felix and Matías. The music is written by me – or many pieces are – but I also leave much of it open and we really discover how to play it together, and that takes place over years. Living with the music, feeling the music, finding the truth of the music, and how to project it, finding out how the pieces breathe – and still having some freedom of expression. It’s an older way of making music, really.” The process, Saluzzi says, is closer in some respects to oral tradition, folk tradition, than it is to a contemporary composer bringing his finished work to a chamber ensemble. These pieces are built to evolve.

The musicians, not least the bandleader, bring formidable instrumental skills to the service of the songs, but virtuosity for its own sake holds no interest for the bandoneonist. “We don’t want to impress with power, and I’m not trying to show how well or how prettily I can play. We do like to invite the listeners to let their imaginations travel, with the music, to some different times and places.” Indeed, the album is laid out as a tour of the territories, expressed in a series of suites, viewing the land and its people from different perspectives.

In this context, Dino singles out José’s composition and solo playing on “Labrador”, Part One of the suite “Pueblo” as a particularly effective instance of the group’s priorities. “It’s one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve heard in a long time. Its melody made me cry. It has both simplicity and depth. It’s really not so easy to have both. It’s created by José, but it’s a piece that embodies what I am aiming for in our music.”

Friends joining the party on El Vallee de la Infancia are 7-string guitarist Nicolás “Colacho” Brizuela, known internationally for his long association with singer Mercedes Sosa, and drummer Quintino Cinalli, brought in by Dino to gently expand the sense of freedom that informs his music. The collaboration was “very friendly, very positive. Both of them really wanted to be a part of the music. It brings in an element of risk, of course. For instance, José’s conception as a guitar player is not the same as Brizuela’s, but we can embrace this, moving between the known and the unknown – this is also an important part of music-making.”

“Dino Saluzzi goes in search of melody and brings it to life,” writes Leopoldo Castilla. “When he sings, the music feels boundless, more than music, a true evocation of people and place. The bandoneon breathes the air of burning sugar cane in the Siancas valley in Salta, Argentina, and [Felix Saluzzi’s] saxophone is the deepest cry.”

Brother Felix’s reeds have become increasingly important to the unfolding of Dino Saluzzi’s music in recent years as evidenced on recordings including the trio disc with Anja Lechner, and the orchestral “El Encuentro”. He shares with his older brother deep recollections of El Valle de la Infancia and his sax and clarinet lines, often yearningly nostalgic, speak of innocence and simplicity.

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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 and led his first group at the age of 14. He began to play professionally while studying in Buenos Aires. His ECM discography was launched in 1982 with the solo album Kultrum, 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 Tomasz Stanko and John Surman (on Stanko's From The Green Hill album). But the family band has always existed alongside such projects. It was first documented on ECM with Mojotoro, recorded in 1991. At that time, José Maria Saluzzi was the group’s drummer. On Cité de la Musique and Responsorium – with Dino and, respectively, Marc Johnson and Palle Danielsson – José stepped forward as a guitarist with a sound of his own.

The Dino Saluzzi Group will be touring Europe early next year. Details soon at www.ecmrecords.com. The trio with Dino and Felix Saluzzi and Anja Lechner is also touring, in summer 2014.

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