This album is one of the most captivating and enjoyable collections of music I’ve listened to this year.

3 AM Fish Records (3AMFR001)  

Valeria Mantzner (Vocals), Aparna Halpe (Violin), Suhashini Arulaneandam (Violin), Esme Allen-Creighton (Viola), Sybil Shanahan (Cello), Shannon Wojewoa (bass), Elizabeth Acker (Piano), Eva Woff (Bandoneon)

Recorded at Revolution Studios, Toronto, ON

Solidaridad Tango is a one-of-a-kind all-female tango ensemble based in North America. It was founded in 2021 by Aparna Halpe, a Sri Lankan violinist. The group celebrates diversity, and their latest collection, DISTANCIA, pays homage to people who stay connected despite being apart. The piece showcases the works of upcoming female tango composers such as Petalo Selser and Eva Wolff.Solidaridad was described as “bringing tango forward” by Laura Fernandez, host of Jazz FM 91’s Café Latino.

DISTANCIA is Solidaridad Tango’s debut album, written and recorded during the pandemic. Four of the songs deal with the pandemic’s effect on all of us – isolation, anxiety, death, and homelessness. There are some somber works (“Varacion” by Petalo Selser), but others show us the joyous side of the ensemble (“Fuimos”) and explore their expanded view of tango music (“Pompeya”).

The songs were primarily written and arranged by band members, with two songs written by the master of contemporary tango, Julian Peralta.  There is even an homage to the Canadian rock band “Rush” in the song “XYZ.” This is a mixture of melancholy and vibrant music.

“Deriva” introduces a flavor for what is to come.  Anchored by the bass, the strings take on various voices with the melody performed by a subset.  The strings intertwine as the song slowly proceeds to a dramatic conclusion.

“Fuimos” is one of the greatest tango love songs, this time with an arrangement by Eva Wolf. She and her bandonen are the heart of this song, and it gives us a respite from the present and reflects the golden age of tango.

“If Not Today,” with music and lyrics by violinist Aparna Halpe, opens with a piano buoyed by the strings.  It is a classic tango song with the strings playing counter melodies.

In the song “XYZ,” the strings are assertive and forceful. The chorus of strings, accompanied by one or more instruments, rises emphatically. The rolling middle section of the song then returns to a more harmonious idea. Suddenly, the sound of maracas and dancing is heard, followed by great laughter, indicating their joy in creating music. I prefer this version over the original Rush version.

“Charrua” opens with staccato percussion and strings dramatically climbing through the scales and notes. It is an example of the Candombe style of music (and dance) that originated in Uruguay among the descendants of formerly enslaved Africans.  In Uruguay, candombe fused multiple African dance traditions into a complex choreography. Movements are energetic, and steps are improvised to suit.

This album is one of the most captivating and enjoyable collections of music I’ve listened to this year. Although not necessarily jazz, the group plays with such unity that you become wholly absorbed in their creativity.