The Asheville Tango Orchestra is one of the city’s most unique ensembles. Performing at Club Eleven on Grove in Asheville, the ensemble resembled a moving painting as they played the night away beneath the warm oranges and reds from the twinkling lights above.

Karen Jaffe, the lovely hostess of the evening as well as instructor and dancer, refers to the tango as “a bouquet of human emotions – passion, anger, happiness, desire, lust, jealousy, love…, interpreted uniquely by each individual person… and expressed on the dance floor.” The rather small room lent itself well to an evening of intimacy; dancers pressed their faces against one another, warmly embracing their partners as they glided smoothly across the wooden floor. The dancers seemed to evoke a sense of confidence and tenderness as they floated with the musical phrases.

The Asheville Tango Orchestra was composed of seven instruments: a bandoneon, an accordion, a keyboard, an upright bass, a first violin, a second violin, and a cello.

Like a classical music ensemble, the Asheville Tango Orchestra members remained poised, composed, and concentrated throughout the evening. Moments of delight flickered momentarily across their faces as they played. Rather than employing a count-off to begin each piece, the orchestra seemed to breathe together as a single unit of sound that knew when each member was ready. There was hardly any obvious facial communication. This echoes hours of practice, dedication, and professionalism of the players.

Argentine music features a variety of styles, and each has a corresponding dance. The Tango features a more traditional rhythm, while the Vals pulses a waltz-like meter. The Milonga is yet another style that features faster, shorter sounds for a livelier dance.

After the members of the orchestra settled, the night began with a piece entitled, “De Julio.” Jovial and upbeat, “De Julio” set the tone for the evening. Major sections smoothly transitioned into minor. The precise and swift bowing from the violinists contrasted beautifully against the legato hum of the accordion and deep, fluid underlying melody of the cello.

“Little Pete’s Diner,” another piece that seemed to showcase the orchestra well, is an Asheville Tango Orchestra original composition. A piece comprised of longer sections and dramatic pauses, the composition allowed the dancers freedom to move and elongate each step as they pleased. The strings sections soared beautifully above the more rhythmic components, which were upheld by the remaining instruments.

Shortly after “Little Pete’s Diner,” the dancers took a break and the orchestra played another lovely, shorter tune called a cortina or “curtain.” This is a time in the evening in which the dancers may find another partner, if they please. It also signals the end of the tanda, or a musical set of three or four pieces of the same period. The evening continued to follow the same format: tanda, cortina, tanda, cortina, etc.

After another tanda, the first portion of the evening ended with a much-needed break. With a renewed sense of excitement, the orchestra began the second set with “Corazón de oro,” a piece that highlighted the musicians’ rhythmic accuracy and precision. The upright bass, for instance, supplied a percussive element as the strings were slapped in a non-traditional sense throughout the piece. The rhythmic intricacy of the strings juxtaposed against the melismatic runs resounding from the keyboard. At times, however, the keys seemed to be overpowered by the other instruments. Smooth and rich slides of harmonious sounds wrapped the tango dancers in a smoldering spell. Immediately following the final note of “Corazón de oro,” lively applause rang throughout the room.

The Asheville Tango Orchestra provided an evening filled with intimate dance, incredible music-making, and an inviting atmosphere – an experience for both listeners and dancers not to be missed.

The ATO’s future performances are listed here:

Note: We are pleased to welcome Rachel Anthony, a student at Brevard College, to CVNC.