November 7 at Jazzhus Montmartre
Jazzhus Montmartre is abuzz with the chatter of black-clad socialites anxiously awaiting Paolo Russo to take the stage. The venue is cosy and dim. Candles line the tables, and packs of Danes gather around them drinking dark beers from snifters.
The audience is varied; the young and the old mingle together in mutual excitement ahead of the night’s performance. A glossy black piano waits on stage surrounded by a small posse of microphones.
Rosso enters through the red velvet curtains that surround the stage, parting them with his right hand, bandoneon sitting on his left shoulder. Born and raised in Italy, with an extensive knowledge of all things Argentinian, he has based himself in Copenhagen since 1996.
“Good evening, everyone,” he says. He sits down and begins a tune without introduction. The bandoneon inhales and exhales. His fingers click manically along the keys like massive spiders. The final notes, bold and resilient, reverberate across the room.
After a pause, he begins his next tune, ‘Nocturno’, which he explains was “inspired by Argentina but composed in Denmark”. It is sombre, blue, and slow, building to a frenzy at the end that crashes like a tidal wave.
Russo’s command over the audience is clear. Not a single person coughs or yawns. All pay close attention. Musicians like Russo are few. He is able to articulate with his bandoneon emotions that words often fail to describe. He, and the audience, are transported somewhere far away.
He plays his instrument as if reading from an ancient book – continuously closing and opening it. The two ends of the bandoneon are magnets of opposite poles – repelled by or attracted to one another, their force controlled by Russo.
‘Asserbo’, his third piece, is inspired by the Danish city. The song rings and splashes – a sweet, balmy mess of staccato notes crescendoing and decrescendoing in a blitz of harmonious patterns. It trots and hustles along, ending on a final note – shrill and high.
At this point, Russo explains that he will begin playing jazz songs. He begins with ‘Detour Ahead’, a song that sways and saunters, reminding one of midnight strolls on cobblestone sidewalks in small, remote Italian villas.
He follows it with ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’, a piece in which the bandoneon embodies a bickering couple – continuously torn apart and pushed together, vigorous, accusatory, but still in love.
He ends the jazz numbers with ‘Oblivion’, a macabre, brooding, sluggish rust-covered song that pierces your heart and grabs your attention. It grows more and more bittersweet, fading into a long, withdrawn hum.
There is a short break and Russo mingles with the audience, exchanging ciaos and hugs. “How was it, Alan?” he asks a man next to me. “It was good,” Alan replies.
When he returns to the stage, he resumes his performance on the piano, an instrument he has played since he was nine years old. Russo is as impressive with a piano as he is with a bandoneon.
‘Kinsarvik’, an ode to the Norwegian village, brings to mind clear waterfalls, towering mountains and dense mist – a perfect homage to the area he called “beautiful but expensive”. Another song, ‘Finmark’, is complex and polyrhythmic – an astounding display of Russo’s abilities on the piano.
His final piano tune, ‘Vivian’s milonga’, is a bright, whimsical, plinky jaunt through the playful world of Argentinian dance music. At times spooky, at others joyous, Russo played this piece with zest, spirit and emotion, drawing his audience even further into the performance.
For his final piece, Russo brought out his student, Anders Skibsted, whom he described as “the future of bandoneon playing in Denmark”. The two dove into a colorful duo. Skibsted wowed with his technical abilities, and his solos nearly rivalled those of his teacher, though Rosso remained the star of the show. The two then switched off soloing, delighting the audience with their talent and co-ordination. It was as if the two were holding a stimulating conversation in music.
After Skibsted left the stage, Russo bid the audience goodnight, but was quickly summoned back with applause. His encore – an intimate, warm, melancholy piece that reminded one of saying goodbye to an old friend – left the audience wishing the show had just begun. He parted the velvet curtains once again, escorted out by cheers.