Astor Piazzolla – Tanguisimo (9 CD set of early tango recordings involving Piazzolla) – Chant du Monde 574 2200 07 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***:

Piazzolla (who I was lucky enough to hear in person prior to his death in 1992) was the second real icon in Argentine tango music alongside Carlos Gardel. He raised tango to the ranks of classical music without causing it to lose any of its force and character. His shaking-up of tango’s musical codes seemed sacrilege to the older generation, but was a needed revolution to those who wanted modernity. He was a virtuoso performer with a mastery of his instrument—the large-button bandoneon—noted for its unwieldy size and difficult fingering.

I was greatly excited to see this compendium of Piazzolla’s recordings from 1945 thru 1961, which was subtitled “The birth of a revolution.” But I found listening to all nine CDs eventually was a bust. Aside from one track of Piazzolla’s lovely “Adios Nonino,” and a few of pseudo jazz on discs 6 & 7, the collection is mostly standard tangos of the time and towards the end some really embarrassing pop numbers recorded in the U.S. when Piazzolla was forced to do arrangements and orchestrations with artists whose musical concerns were far different from his own, just to make a living. One track is a vocal on “Moonlight in Vermont” that sounds like it is sung by Ricardo Montalban, with a hilarious accent. Then there’s an unbelievable version of “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”  Piazzolla had some trouble with those in charge who complained of his avant-garde tendencies.

I suppose I have no interest in Piazzolla prior to “Libertango,” just as I have no interest in the Beatles prior to Rubber Soul. The detailed note booklet gives information on every one of the many tracks in the collection. It also has sections on Media Quality, Lack of Information, Inaccessible Recordings, The Unreliability of Certain Sources, and Editorial Bias. It apologizes for not being able to include some of the many film scores Piazzolla did, evidently due to copyright problems. The remasterings do seem to be well done, though some of the earlier tangos are a bit wiry-sounding. Sorry I don’t feel the effort of listing the entire playlists to be worthwhile. It starts with “Corrientes Y Esmeralda” and ends with “How Deep Is The Ocean, How High Is the Sky.” So there.

—John Sunier