Decarísimo Tango
Gotán Tango
La cachila Tango
Maipo Tango
Mi refugio Tango
Ojos negros Tango
Un placer Vals
Julio Nudler

A Corto and a quebrada

hey were three nights at the beginning of September, at the showroom on 370 Cochabamba street. For the first time in Buenos Aires, the bandoneonist César Stroscio played with his Trio Esquina. So capable of shocking with a challenging milonga or to try out the dissonant edges of the avant garde, they confirmed that today the best innovative tango is made far from Argentina (by musicians like Juan Carlos Carrasco, Juan José Mosalini, Gustavo Beytelmann and Stroscio himself), or is made here for faraway audiences (Pablo Ziegler's case). The «esquineros» brought under their arms Corto Maltés's tango adventure, in a book where Hugo Pratt's character, his roving sailor, is accompanied with the trio's music.

All had been planned in Italy in 1991 through Marco Castellani, the trío Esquina's agent at the peninsula. His was the idea of creating «the Corto Maltés's tangos». The book Tango, by Pratt, had been released in black and white, with the comic located in Argentine whorehouses and impregnated of tango, as a homage to a Jewish-Pole harlot, Louise Brookszowyc. Taking into consideration that the comic maker from Rimini was brought up in Buenos Aires (where he arrived in 1949 and lived until the mid- 60s), that afterlunch delirium, conceived after a concert, was shaped. But the task was not easy: just reaching Pratt, who lived isolated in Switzerland, was quite a complication.

Marco finally got his address. He wrote to him, he sent him the tango boletín he published and the trio´s first record, which by then included the singer Susana Rizzi. The answer came after six months, but it was what they were waiting for: Pratt accepted the idea delighted and was promising Marco an appointment in Venice. When they met, after talking for hours about the character and the contradictions and incongruousness which Marco found in him, Pratt told him: «Castellani, I think you know Corto Maltés much better than I».

The first project was devised at that moment: Pratt would write a new comic, with a plot which fitted with the tangos Stroscio and Claudio Pino Enríquez, the Trio Esquina's guitarist, would compose for a record dedicated to the character that Pratt conceived in La Boca but only launched in 1967, after his return to Europe, where he achieved a huge repercussion, especially among intellectual audiences. But Pratt's publishers did not like the project, particularly the French, who was against mixing a book with a record. When Pratt died in August 1995 (either for Le Monde as for Libération his passing away was cover note, and both headlined something like «Corto Maltés is gone»), the idea seemed definitively frustrated. The members of Esquina had not even met the drafstman.

Four years later, the fifth and last Pratt's wife, Patricia Zanetti, to whom he bequeathed his edition rights, recovered the project (Pratt's succession is an intrincate story apart, played by all his wives and the children he had with each one). For want of a new strip, the record would remain inseparably inserted in a release of Tango, no longer in black and white but colored by Patricia herself. So there were launched for the 1998 Christmas, 25 thousand copies in five languages: Italian, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish.

The concretion of the old project was so hurried that César and Pino only had time to create two themes alluding the series: “Corto y Louise” and “La Senegalesa”, which open the CD enclosed with the book. On the remaining nine tracks there are others linked in some way with this adventure. “Ojos negros” (by Vicente Greco) is included because, at another Corto's running about, when he leaves Brazil, a woman told him that she would never forget his black eyes. At other, being Corto in Siberia, he, astonished, asks his interlocutor: «How is it possible, don't you know Arolas? You're an asshole!». That´s why “La cachila” and “Maipo” are included in the record, two of the most outstanding tangos composed by El Tigre del Bandoneón. “Siempre París” (by Virgilio Expósito) recalls Pratt's love for that city. “Decarísimo” (by Astor Piazzolla) is included because Pratt admired and backed Astor from the beginning, and also because of the brothers Julio De Caro and Francisco De Caro who revolutionized tango around the same period when Corto was in search of the girl enslaved by the ruffians of the Warsow, later Zwi Migdal. Pratt's devotion for Aníbal Troilo, whom he first met in a Turkish bath, justifies the inclusion of several numbers (among them, “Mi refugio” and the waltz “Un placer”), interpreted with the same arrangements with which Pichuco and Roberto Grela played them.

The Trío Esquina was born in 1991, as the idea of the Corto Maltés's tangos, when Pino Enríquez settled in Paris (since March this year he is again in Buenos Aires, but with the strong decision of neither letting die the outfit because of that, nor giving up his Parisian tango workshop for teen-agers). By then, Stroscio and the bass player Carlos Carlsen, both coming from the Cuarteto Cedrón, were looking for a guitarist. The three started to perform in Paris and in Barcelona, with the female singer Susana Rizzi and a repertoire which mixed Eduardo Rovira with poems by Machado or Alberto Szpunberg, musicalized by Stroscio. The trio's present lineup, now without voice, would consolidate in 1995 with the inclusion of the double bass player Hubert Tissier. The group's first CD, Musiques du Río de la Plata, is unfolded in an arc which encompasses from Anselmo Aieta to Rovira, whom Stroscio had frequented in the 60s, when together with Juan Cedrón they run the already unrepeatable “Gotán”, where Piazzolla played as well. Anyway, Esquina makes a re-reading of Rovira's material , deviating from the codes of the composer himself. On a new record, already half cut, numbers written by Stroscio and Enríquez will prevail, and among these, some which will go on glossing Pratt's comic.

In the late years Esquina was included by Peter Gabriel to the staff of Womad (Worid Music and Dance), what allowed them to show their music at festivals held in different parts of the world, from the United States to Singapore, from England to South Africa. Apart from this, the trio orbits with its tango more around the European circuits of jazz and chamber music than on those specifically organized for tango, since its language is so far removed from tango-dance. With their September presentations at the STAC (San Telmo Arte Club) they tried to check the audience response in Buenos Aires, who amazedly received this quality of virtuoso and creative tango, placed so far from stereotypes. Maybe they come back in early December, already officially invited to the Festival de Tango. In any case, by April 2000 they are scheduled in the Teatro San Martín, for recitals at the sala Casacuberta. And perhaps, meanwhile, their music starts to be heard in Argentina, as it should be logical.

Originally published in the RADAR supplement of Página/12 on 10/Oct/99.