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Stravinskian rhythmic stabs, sparse-textured counterpoint, jazz harmony and driving bass lines harass the tortured souls of violin and bandoneon into ever more lachrymose and sinuous displays of virtuosity. Through these means, Piazzolla renewed both tango's universality and its irreducible essence -- but not without arousing enough emnity to force him out of Argentina during the dark years of the military junta in the 1970s.
As well as a composer, Astor Piazzolla was an arranger, bandleader and virtuoso on the bandoneÛn (button accordion), tango's principal instrument. A full Piazzolla discography would include both his own early recordings of other people's music (a 1940s collaboration with Francisco Fiorentino stands out) and other people's recordings of his -- over a decade after his death, Piazzolla's star shows no sign of fading, with some of contemporary classical music's leading lights (the Kronos Quartet, Joanna MacGregor) among his music's most enthusiastic advocates.
But this World Music Network/Rough Guides recording chooses to focus on the rich core of Piazzolla playing Piazzolla, and in so doing forms a satisfying and coherent survey -- still more so since most of the recordings date from the era of the classic New Tango Quintet (bandoneÛn, guitar, double bass, piano, violin) which Piazzolla formed in 1978.
Piazzolla greatest hits
The greatest hits are certainly there -- 'Libertango', 'AdiÛs Nonino', 'Vuelvo al Sur'. So also are relative oddities such as a collaboration with jazz baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan from the 1974 album Summit, the early, fully-orchestrated 'Tres Minutos con la Realidad' or 'Golazo', a celebration of goal-scoring written for the 1978 Argentina-hosted World Cup.
A peculiar omission is that of anything from Tango Zero Hour, the 1986 album which Piazzolla himself considered his finest. In an ideal world, more singing would also have been nice (Roberto 'Polaco' Goyeneche on 'Vuelvo al Sur' is the only vocal outing). However, if you don't know Piazzolla's music, you should, and this album is about as good a place to start as you're likely to find. Go on, indulge yourself to an hour of cordon bleu soul-torture. You know you want to.
Biography of Piazzolla
In 1925 Piazzolla moved with his parents to New York, where the family lived until 1936. He received his first bandoneón at age eight and learned to play both that instrument and the piano as a child. When the family returned to Mar del Plata in 1936, Piazzolla began playing with a variety of tango orchestras. At age 17 he moved to Buenos Aires. He formed his own orchestra in 1946, composing new works and experimenting with the sound and structure of the tango. About the same time he began to compose music for film. In 1949 he disbanded the orchestra, unsatisfied with his own efforts and still interested in classical composition.
Return to Argentina
Having won a composing contest with his symphonic piece Buenos Aires (1951), he went to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. She urged him to remain true to himself and to continue his experiments with the tango. Henceforth he combined his two musical passions, despite much criticism from tango traditionalists. He returned to Argentina in 1955 but moved once again to the United States, where he lived from 1958 to 1960. When he returned again to Argentina, he formed the influential Quinteto Nuevo Tango (1960), featuring a violin, electric guitar, piano, double bass, and bandoneón. Though many of his 750 compositions were written for that quintet, he also composed pieces for orchestra, big band, bandoneón, and cello. His innovations, including counterpoint and new rhythms and harmonies, were initially not well received in his country, but they were greatly admired in the United States and Europe. He moved to Paris in 1974 but returned to Argentina in 1985.
In Argentina Piazzolla's new tango gradually gained acceptance, and his music influenced a new generation of tango composers and was featured during the 1970s and '80s in film scores, television programs, and commercials. His later compositions included a concerto for bandoneón and orchestra (1979) and, commissioned by Kronos Quartet, Five Tango Sensations for bandoneón and string quartet (1989).
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2006 ADIOS NONINO
The Rough Guide to Astor Piazzolla - available on Amazon.
Libertango: Pasion De Tango 40 Exitos Clasicos - available here.
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