For some people, tango means the dance with a stereotypical red rose between the teeth. For Ben Thomas, a percussionist and bandoneonist from Seattle, tango is much more than that: it has been an important part of his life for at least fifteen years before the 2022 release of Eternal Aporia. The album includes twelve of his original compositions mixing tango with jazz and classical chamber music.
Joining Thomas on the album are Eric Likkel (clarinets) and Steve Schermer (bass). Several tracks also feature Gretchen Yanover (cello), Brandon Vance (violin), and Jonathan Geer (piano). The band combines virtuosity with emotional content and writes yet another paragraph in the modern history of interactions between tango and jazz.
The jazz side of the album comes through the solos performed mostly by vibraphone and bandoneon, and at times by clarinet and bass. The harmonic language is quite unconventional and more intense than one hears in traditional tango. "Flights Without Air" comes with meter changes and percussive effects in the bass. In many pieces on the album, such as "Little Birds," the bandoneon and vibraphone have the moments of sharing the same lines, perfectly synched together. Both instruments are recorded by Thomas, which helps to align them. Still, the blend of these instruments is just phenomenal.
Eternal Aporia offers a variety of colors and nuances. The instrumentation goes from solo bandoneon in "A Wistful Eschaton" to full band in "Tangent 7" and "The Space Between," from the haunting cinematic waltz "Blood Dimmed Tide" to the bursting, energetic "Something Ventured." "Flowers of Rage" lasts only fifty seconds, yet its melody sticks in the memory and appears again in another short piece, "We Were Never Perfect," reminiscent of a music box that one might find in an old home. While it is hard to do anything else with tango after Astor Piazzolla, Thomas proves that there is actually more still to say.