Recently there has been some discussion amongst tango DJs about the relative merits of Pugliese‘s 1940s and 1950s recordings, focussing in on the two versions of La yumba: the first recorded in 1946, and the second in 1952. This latter version was used in the Sally Potter film
The Tango Lesson.
Pugliese’s music displays integrity, commitment, and maturity. It demands the same in return from those who listen to and dance to his music. La yumba itself is an iconic track. One of a triptych of Pugliese compositions considered to define his oeuvre, it has a mechanical, almost brutal beat that conveys the pulse of the city. The name of the track is onomatopoeic: it refers to the strong marcato beat on the 1st and 3rd beats of each bar in the Pugliese style. The story goes that he wrote the piece to convey to his orchestra the sound that he wanted.
In full flow, with a fila (line) of four violins and four bandoneóns, the Pugliese orchestra looked more than any other like a musical machine, like an old-fashioned car engine with pumping pistons. To get an idea, have a look at this video from the now legendary 1989 concert at the Teatro Colón. Bear in mind that this is far from his best orchestra, and there are synchronisation errors on youtube between the audio and the video. Despite this, the electric atmosphere in the concert hall comes roaring through:
Pugliese 50s instrumentals are very strong, and were overplayed in the early days of many tango scenes. Nevertheless, I have only once wept at a tango performance, and this was when Rodolfo and Maria Cieri danced to Emancipación.
Today I find myself feeling that tracks like Emancipación are not for every day, but must be used sparingly. Then I think how far this is from the Argentine point of view. The single largest ethnic group in Argentina is the Italians, and anyone who has been to Italy will know that the ethic there is that the best is for every day. Every day, they eat their best food, and wear their best clothes. In the end, I feel that our comments about his music often say as much about us as they do about him.
In the particular case of La yumba, I prefer the 1946 version. It is a bit softer, and works better in a tanda. The best transfer is to be found either on Ausencia or on the 4 CD set Edición Aniversario. The 1952 version is on The Tango Lesson soundtrack and on the Pugliese compilation Colección.