The elegant bandoneón/cello duo strikes from the heart of Wachovia Jazz’s global attitude

Determinedly global and far-reaching, the Wachovia Jazz Series regularly makes the effort to feature a variety of world music — improvised and otherwise — in their presentation each season. Oftentimes, they lure performers from other continents who’ve never even played in North America.
“‘World Music’ is too ambiguous a name for the vigorous, beautiful art that they create,” series director Michael Grosforean said recently. “It’s too difficult to put a name to what they do, nor is it necessary.”
Monday afternoon’s concert at the Sottile Theatre illustrated Gosforean’s point well. Dino Saluzzi, an elderly and charming Argentine bandoneón player, and Anja Lechner, a seriously talented German cellist known best for her work with the Rosamunde Quartet, presented a unique, mixed-pace program with hints of Old World and New World, Europe and Latin America, chamber music, folk music, and jazz.
The two were intense and focused. Their audience sat silently at full attention. Seated on piano benches in the middle of an empty stage, they opened with a couple of pieces from their newly-released collection, Ojos Negros, an album comprised of eight compositions written by Saluzzi and a title track written by early 20th century bandoneónist Vicente Greco.
How Saluzzi became so proficient on the bandoneón (a key-less accordion) is a mystery. It’s such an odd instrument. Unlike the piano accordion, it doesn’t have a keyboard on one side. It produces a different note when played closing than when played opening. German immigrants brought the instrument to Argentina in the early 20th century. Eventually, it was incorporated into much of the local music.
Saluzzi clicked and clacked on the buttons of the squeeze box, pulling and pushing the chords and melodies. The natural noisiness of the instrument added an unexpected element to the texture of sounds.
Most of the program worked from a mix of slowed-down tango, South American folk music. The rendition of “Ojos Negros” was vibrant and dynamic. “Esquina” and “Serenata” — two pieces inspired by Saluzzi’s childhood memories of playing in the moonlight — were beautifully melancholic with heavy moments of droning and dissonance and lighter moments of melody and relief.
A solo piece written by Saluzzi for cello — a movement he called “Suite for Cello” — highlighted Lechner’s stunning technique. “It’s the first of three movements … I promise the other two for next time!” Saluzzi laughed before exiting the stage briefly. It was the first of several lighter moments with the bandoneónist on the mic, as he carefully explained the inspirations and emotions behind his recent compositions.
“We are all brothers,” he stated at the closing number. “And this music and this beautiful instrument is for everyone. I did not go to the academy; I learned this instrument and music by myself … that’s why my music is so bad [laughs]. But really, this is music from the heart.” I was convinced.

DINO SALUZZI & ANJA LECHNER • Spoleto Festival USA’s Wachovia Jazz Series