The award-winning Lorena Guillén Tango Ensemble brought their passion for tango to Winston-Salem for their show in the Music Carolina SummerFest lineup. Based in North Carolina, the LGTE brings together musical influences from jazz, classical, contemporary, and popular music for a tango and pan-Latin experience. Performing a mix of tango standards and original songs slated for their second album, LGTE brought a taste of classic and contemporary Argentine tango to us here in North Carolina. And while many of us in the audience were not Spanish-speakers, lead singer and namesake of the group, Lorena Guillén, assured us that even if we didn’t speak Spanish, the music alone would speak for itself. Comfortable, communicative, and engaging on stage, LGTE’s expressivity pieced together a story that couldn’t have been clearer.

Opening with the tango standard, “Niebla del Riachuelo,” LGTE established the concert’s undercurrent themes of change, loneliness, and freedom. In an allegory for neglected love, the song evokes the imagery of a misty harbor littered with boats abandoned by their captains, unsure when or if they will set sail again. Leaving an impression of melancholy on the audience, the ensemble revealed something personal about their relationship with tango and emphasized the special sound and style they’ve cultivated. Immediately, I was captured by the fearlessness with which Guillén sings. Her phrasing was dynamic, sensitive, and smattered with colorful timbres. The instrumentalists in the ensemble set up a perfect canvas for Guillén to sing over. Arranged by bassist Alejandro Rutty, the simplicity and clarity of the orchestrated instrumental parts amplified the sincere emotive and narrative power of Guillén’s voice.

While much of the set was shaded by seriousness and drama, the program had a good balance of light-hearted foils as well. In “El Torito,” violinist Jacqui Carrasco and guitarist Guy Capuzzo traded a playful and toying solo back and forth while percussionist Erik Schmidt kept the ensemble together with a rousing composite groove. In Guillén’s original song, “Como Exotica,” she shared with us the special feeling of anticipation, nostalgia, and exuberance she gets when traveling back to Argentina each year. And after taking us on the winds to Argentina, “Sawdust and Discoball” took us sliding onto the dance floors of Buenos Aires. An original song by Rutty, the fusion number blends funk and Latin dance music seamlessly where alternations in groove, language, spoken word, and song are always shifting. Imploring us to give in to the rhythm, Guillén insisted, “shave the floor with your feet until sawdust comes out!”

In lieu of ending the night with a bang, Guillén revisited that theme of loneliness she established at the beginning of the set for the final song. But instead of loneliness in love, the final song, “Inmensa Soledad,” was about a bigger kind of loneliness. “Inmensa Soledad” captures that feeling of insignificance we encounter when faced with our own smallness in the vastness of the universe. Distant tambourine, echoing calls from guitar, and an aching progression in piano and bass created the sense that this is a feeling that can absorb you, a feeling where you can lose yourself. But for Guillén, the antidote to that shrinking is to cherish the feeling of gratitude she gets from sharing her music with an audience. Contemplative and self-actualizing, “Inmensa Soledad” again revealed the ensemble’s capacity for sensitivity and depth through tango. To experience their one-of-a-kind take on tango firsthand, watch out for the release of LGTE’s second album, Tango Diaspora, later this year.