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Take me to the true Tango

img  Tobias

At the heart of the continuing rise of the tango lies a striking paradox : On the one hand, it longs for world domination and on the other, it is constantly denying its heritage, its origin and even its very existence. It is hard to think of a second style so much at war with itself over which elements constitute its true personality – and I am not just talking about the fact that it has developed from a sexually charged dance in the middle of the 19th century to one of the more potent forms of contemporary composition here. No, it is almost as if the tango were ashamed of itself, just like Astor Piazzolla was ashamed to show his tango pieces to Nadia Boulanger when he first took classes with her in Paris in the 1950s. This sensation has remained, even after the renewed boom of the 1990s, when the tango fever spread beyond Europe and washed over central Europe again in a second missionary wave after its first entrance into the salons in disguise of the “International Tango”. And yet, a new set of musicians and labels are treating it both with respect and an open mind. Let’s have a look at some of the diverse outings from the past few months, which might serve as an introduction into the subject as well as a first attempt at resolving the question which can never be answered: What is the tango?

Orchestral Aspirations

To Paola Trancone, who has written the introductory paragraph to “Conciertango” (SACD on ARTS Music), it is a “type of music that steps beyond time and space and is constantly seeking its oldest origins”. To Astor Piazzolla, however, going back in time did not just end in the brothels and dirty street cafes of Buenos Aires. In fact, it is a given that he took up the bandoneon purely to please his father and rather fostered a secret love for Bach and Jazz, complaining that there was nothing but “tango, always tango” being played at his home as a kid. Including strings in his arrangements was therefore a logical step, which the album uses as its core theme. After a short introduction, the delirious harmonies of the “Double Concerto” combine with the painful guitar cascades and mourning bandoneon rolls, creating a wide-open, cinematic sound. The famous third movement is picked up and reworked by Oliviero Lacagnina in his almost 30-minute long tribute, which eschews the bandoneon and uses Piazzolla’s theme as a blueprint for a harmonically bacchanal and rhythmically nervous serenade.

Part of a bigger Picture
Piazzolla is also present on “Seresta”, featuring Martin Merker of the Offenburger Streichtrio and Anna Adamik (CD on Antes Edition/Bella Musica), but here he is placed in a tradition usually only awarded a sidenote in musical history: That of great South American composers. “Le grand Tango”, composed in 1982 for Mstislav Rostropovich, is a fluent and eclectic duo piece for Cello and Piano, which opens in an agitated state, only to finish with a stringent, powerful and glistening display of pearly jazz runs. It demonstrates how far he had come ten years before his death, showing masterful skills in using the different timbral qualities of the upper and lower register of the piano to create a rich palette. And yet, on “Serestra”, Piazzolla is only one of the artists, as it focuses on his friends (Jose Bragato), mentors (Alberto Ginastera) and then on other composers outside of the tango idiom. The latter category is especially fruitful, as works by Francisco Mignone or Liduino Pitombeira show that a similar dialogue between the present and the past, the body and the mind has taken place in other genres and created a dialogue with the tango, which continues until today.

Organic Development
Classical music and the avantgarde have been two important points of reference for the current development of the tango, so it only seemed logical when it flirted with electronics a couple of years ago and melted into the electrotango, a variation headed by the multinational Gotan project, which conquered charts and stages alike. Somehow, this trend has proven short-lived (even though many bands continue to release and perform) and instead, the tango has opted to go “organic” again and develop from its acoustic roots. Eduardo Makaroff of the Gotan project and an Argentinian himself has decided to head this movement and founded a label focusing on “everyone who knows how to interpret the tango and has something important to say about it”. CDs on his label include tango tracks for solo piano, selections from the “tango cancion”) and a live program of standards performed by legendary Horacio Molina. The mix already hints at the programmatic focus of Manana: Building and continuing the rapport with some of the main present-day tango composers and interpretors and highlight some of its all-time heroes. To Makaroff, this is where the tango is heading – to a stage of refinement, where the different elements are no longer antonyms, but merely different means of expression of equal validity.

Ever-strong Tradition
One of the artists which he might consider signing is flutist Viviana Guzman. Her album “Argentine Music”, a collaboration with Makaroff’s compatriot and guitarist Anibal Corniglio, was album of the month at tokafi in January and “mostly Tango Live!” again highlights Guzman’s pervasive and powerful melodic lines in many different settings. Contrary to the disc with Corniglio, the repertoire is slightly more traditional, but on the other hand features all of the different rhythms which all make up the different facets of the tango. And Guzman’s playing is so dominant, so confident that you’ll have a hard time accepting any other interpretation after having listened to her. “mostly Tango live!” is a great example for the many faces of the tango and for its eternal youth – even if it can’t make up its mind whether to put two steps forward or one step back.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: ARTS Records
Homepage: Edoardo Catemario (Guitar on "Concertango")
Homepage: Michael Zisman (Bandoneon on "Concertango")

Homepage: Antes Edition/Bella Musica Edition Records
Homepage: Offenburger Streichtrio/Martin Merker (Chello on "Seresta")

Homepage: Manana Records

Homepage: Viviana Guzman


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