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Astor Piazzolla
 57 Minutes Con La Realidad, Intuition CD INT 3079 2, 1996 (53:09)

 The tango master's amazing last recording

Astor Piazzolla is to tango what Bill Monroe is to country string music: the creator and master of an astonishing new genre. Monroe created bluegrass; Piazzolla transformed the Argentine tango into "nuevo tango," making what was already a heady music -- more than that, a way of life -- into a genuine art music. If "tango" makes you think of a sweaty lounge vulture accompanied by relentlessly throbbing music, you have never heard Piazzolla. This posthumously released recording (Piazzolla died in 1992 at the age of 71) is a wonderful way to discover his phenomenal music. Go out and buy it now, and let me envy you hearing it the first time -- with its incomparable emotional impact, the wildness of free jazz combined with superbly logical structure, and rhythms that ebb and flow like life itself.

This album is made up of studio recordings and live recordings for the BBC television. Surprisingly, there is little difference in recorded quality, although the studio tracks have a touch of sweetening echo (so it sounds to me) missing from the live tracks. I actually prefer the unprocessed live-to-digital tape sound.

The buoyantly joyous "Imagenes" kicks things off, with Andy Gonzales' bass providing a double-time pulse under the festivities. As the tempo picks up speed, Piazzolla's longtime collaborator Gerardo Gandini dances like a dervish all over the keyboard. Then, directly into "Milonga Para Tres," a heartbreaking slow lament, with Gandini's piano playing a repeated figure that starts to rise optimistically only to fall again, while Carlos Nozzi's cello provides the widow's wail. "Buenos Aires Hora Cero" is full of acerbically sharp accents by piano and bandoneons. "Tres Minutos Con La Realidad" has a wonderful jazzy feel, like an Argentine "Peter Gunn," with superb melodic runs by Horacio Malvicino on guitar. The album concludes with Piazzolla's brief solo, "Prelude to the Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night," the same recording as on the album with this title. This ends the album on an appropriately questioning note, as we wonder what Piazzolla, had he lived, might have gone on to produce.

What Piazzolla's music does not have (at least on most of his recordings) is lyrics. In America, particularly, we seem to have trouble responding to music without a verbal story. Especially after Dylan, our highest acclaim has been reserved for musicians who write lyrics and sing (or speak or yell) them. We want our musicians to talk to us, to tell us about themselves through words, because we feel music alone is frivolous. (Being still a puritanical society at heart.) So, we treat wordless music as suitable only for providing a pleasant background. Authentic jazz, for example, gets scant attention in the land of its land of birth, while new age and "contemporary" jazz provide the perfect musical wallpaper for cardboard houses.

Piazzolla's tango is not background music. It will draw you in, and tell you stories that, if you open your heart, are as clear as any words. The album's title means "fifty-seven minutes with reality." It's the truth. --  Glenn Brooks

production notes & song titles

Astor Piazzolla, bandoneon; Gerardo Gandini, piano; Horacio Malvicino, guitar; Daniel Binelli, bandoneon; Jose Bragato or Carlos Nozzi, cello; Hector Console, Angel Ridolfi or Andy Gonzales, bass.

Produced by Kip Hanrahan, recorded by various engineers.

Imagenes | Milonga Para Tres | Buenos Aires Hora Cero | Pasajes Obscuras Dos Estrellas | Tres Minutos Con La Realidad | Mumuki | Sexteto | Adios Nonino | Prelude to the Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night

of related interest

Astor Piazzolla

 The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night, Nonesuch/American Clavé CD 79515-2, 1987/2000 (40:56)
After listening to the prelude, you might as well pick up the entire album, one of Piazzolla's best, now re-released by Nonesuch.

Also recommended is the equally amazing:
 Tango: Zero Hour, Nonesuch/American Clavé CD 79469-2, 1986/1998 (46:13)

 The Central Park Concert, Chesky CD JD107, 1994 (70:08)
Live recording of a wonderful 1987 concert by Piazzolla's great last quintet; crystal clear sound.

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.