Tango is a social dance form originating in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The musical styles that evolved together with the dance are also known as “tango”. Today, there are many tango dance styles, including Argentine Tango, Ballroom tango (American and International styles), Finnish tango, Chinese tango, and vintage tangos. The Argentine tango is often regarded as the “authentic” tango since it is closest to that originally danced in Argentina and Uruguay, though other types of tango have developed into mature dances in their own right.
Music and dance elements of tango are popular in activities related to dancing, such as figure skating, synchronized swimming, etc., because of its dramatic feeling and its cultural associations with romance and love. A newer style sometimes called “Nuevo Tango” has been popularized in recent years by a younger generation of dancers. The embrace is often quite open and very elastic, permitting the leader to lead a large variety of very complex figures. This style is often associated with those who enjoy dancing to jazz- and techno-tinged “alternative Tango” music, in addition to traditional Tango compositions.
I might add that the inventor of Nuevo Tango was Argentine bandoneon player and composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-992). He studied with Ginastera and was trying to compose concert works, often in the international academic serial style, when he met with famed composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. She told him to forget that path and write music using his own tango background. He did, coming up with highly original works using extreme chromaticism, dissonance, fugues, jazz and more robust instrumentation. The riveting works which followed have revolutionized tango, but most non-trained dancers find them better for listening than to dance to. Their use of pop, jazz and classical elements to create a “concert tango” has made some of Piazzolla’s tunes appropriate to many crossover musical genres, some of which are found in the CDs profiled below:
Homage to Piazzolla – Works of PIAZZOLLA, PUJOL, AGUIRRE, CRESPO, LUNA, FLEURY, FALU, CARDOSO, RAMIREZ – Michael Anthony Nigro, guitar – Music & Arts CD-1149(1), 64:40:
Subtitled “Argentine Dances Songs and Rhythms,” this is a live recording of a concert by southern California guitarist Nigro. Not all of the selections are tangos, but the special spirit of that form imbues nearly all the selections of guitar works by other Argentine composers in the program. Several of the pieces are by Maximo Diego Pujol, who is one of the leading exponents of Argentine music for the classical guitar today. Some of the other selections come directly from Argentine folk music. The three Piazzolla works were composed originally for the guitar, rather than being arrangements of his music for the tango ensemble.
Tango in Blue – Orchestral Tangos by WEILL, STRAVINSKY, SEREBRIER, SATIE, PIAZZOLLA, MATOS RODRIGUEZ, GOULD, GADE, CONDON, BARBER – Carole Farley, soprano/Enrique Telleria, bandoneon/Barcelona Symphony Orchestra and National Orchestra of Catalonia/ José Serebrier – BIS-CD-1175, 74:51:
Conductor Serebrier was asked while performing in Germany a few years ago to put together a program of tangos by classical composers, and it was a big hit with audiences. He decided to make a recording of them and include even more, plus one he wrote himself for the occasion – the title tune, Tango in Blue.
Just as various dance forms were important to concert music of the Renaissance and Baroque, the tango has had appeal for quite a number of composers. Of course two had to be included from Piazzolla: Oblivion and Tangazo. Stravinsky’s Tango is probably the best-known by a famous composer; it was the very first work he wrote after moving to Hollywood in 1940. Retaining his quirky rhythmic style, it nevertheless is still clearly a tango. We get a pair from Kurt Weill, his wonderful Matrosen-Tango, plus the song about a make-believe place, Youkali. The concert closes with two extremely well-known tangos: Jalousie (the Boston Pops’ huge hit back in the days of 78s) and La Cumparsita.
Tango Sensations – PIAZZOLLA: Tango sensations; Tristezas para un AA; SCHWERTSIK: Adieu Satie; ARAOLAS; El Marne; COBIAN: Mi refugio; CARO: La Rayuela – Alban Berg Quartet, with Per Arne Glorvigen, bandoneon & Alois Posch, doublebass – EMI Classics 5 57778 2, 61:03:
Now here’s a change of pace in tango playing – a string quartet (named after possibly the most emotional of the serialists) – plus the Argentine bandoneon and a fifth string player. The first Piazzolla composition was written for string quartet and bandoneon originally by the composer, while the second was arranged for this ensemble. the short pieces by Arolas, Cobian and De Caro are for solo bandoneon only. The work by Kurt Schwetsik is a real kick – a little four-movement suite commenting wittily on the patented quirks of Erik Satie – who by the way frequented the Paris cafes at the same time both the bandoneon and the tango were all the rage there.
El Ultimo Tango plays Astor Piazzolla – Somm Céleste Recordings SOMMCD 033, 65:44:
(Nicolas Bricht, flute; Mark O’Brien, saxophones; Eduardo Vassallo, cello; Fred Lezama Thomas, piano; Mark Goodchild, doublebass)
This recording and unique quintet come from the unlikely source of England, though two of its members are of Argentine origin. The cellist’s father played with Piazzolla in Buenos Aires. The most unusual thing about the ensemble is that it lacks the quintessential tango instrument, the bandoneon, and doesn’t even have a frequent substitute in some other groups – the accordion. The reason is that it was hard to find bandoneon players in England! In order to replicate something like the instrument’s special timbre, the group’s bassist and arranger Mark Goodchild combines the flute and saxophone to create new musical colors.
The longest selection at over ten minutes is a lovingly-played version of the touching Adios Nonino, composed by Piazzolla just after his father had died. The instrumental makeup of the quintet reminded me of some French chamber music, such as Poulenc. In the closing music of the disc – Piazzolla’s Four Seasons Suite – the various players collaborate for a wonderful alternative to the original Piazzolla scoring for the typical tango ensemble.
Tracks: Libertango, Decarissimo, Preludio, Bragatissimo, Buenos Aires Hora Cero, Lunfardo, Adios Nonino, Oblivion, Four Seasons: Premavara portena, Verano porteno, Otono porteno, Inverno porteno.
Michel Camilo & Tomatito (piano & acoustic guitar) – Spain Again – Universal Music Classics Group B0007179-02, 52:18:
The renowned flamenco guitarist Tomatito joined with Dominican jazz & classical pianist Camilo about six years ago for the Latin Grammy-winning album titled Spain. (Tomatito’s father is also a famous flamenco guitars, named Tomate.) On it they brought together their very different Latin cultures in a delightful meld combining jazz, flamenco, classical, Latin and gypsy rhythms and harmonies. Now they’ve done it again with Spain Again.
The members of this exceptional duo have evolved in the meantime as artists, and Camilo said “It was so amazing to see how after we shared our personal feelings for each song, we simply enjoyed the self-discovery process by letting the music tell us where it wanted to flow.” Three tracks on the new CD constitute a tribute to Astor Piazzolla – his familiar Libertango and Adios Nonino, plus the less-known Fuga y Misterio. It’s interesting to hear the Spanish flamenco take on Piazzolla supported by the Caribbean flavors of some of Camilo’s pianisms. I find them just about the freshest-sounding interpretations of Piazzolla’s music I’ve heard in some time. Each performer gets one of their own tunes included in the 11 tracks here, and Chick Corea’s La Fiesta is cut from the same cloth as his “Spain” featured on the first album. On the final track of the album, the duo invited in singer/songwriter Jean Luis Guerra to join them in his song Amor de Conuco.
Tracks: El Dia Que Me Quieras, Libertango, Fuga y Misterio, Adios Nonino, Stella by Starlight, Twilight Glow, A Los Nietos, La Tarde, La Fiesta, From Within, Amor De Conuco.
(Jaurena, bandoneon/arranger/director; Quinteto Sinopus (Uruguay); Octavo Brunetti, piano; Marga Mitchell, singer)
Some bandoneonists can be found in the U.S., and Jaurena is one of the best-known of them. Originally from Uruguay, he has traveled the world with various tango bands, including one which lasted over a decade and made an excellent CD for VAI Records – The New York Buenos Aires Connection. He gives an annual concert at a music center in the Queens, NYC, and this disc is a typical program . It features mainly Jaurena’s own tangos plus some from his fellow Uruguayans Oldimar Caceres and Edelmiro Toto D’Amario. Their music is very close to the exciting feeling of Piazzolla’s and free of the corniness of Arthur Murray-style tangos. Aside from La Cumparsita, you won’t find any of the 14 tracks overly familiar. Ms. Mitchell is a fine vocalist on the four tracks on which she appears, and a nice alternative to the typical male tango singers. Highly recommended.
Tracks: A Mancuso, Dansa para un Bandoneon/Bandoneon Arrabalero, Tatoneando, La Pirulita, La Cumparsita, Guruyense, Con el Corazon al Sur, Better Late Than Never, Espera, Prometedora, Noches del Odeon, Yuyito, El Botija, New York Gotan.
Fionnuala Hunt, violin – Tangos and Dances – with the RTE Concert Orchestra – CD + DVD Avie AV2083, 60:00:
Yes, tango is now an international phenomenon and Finland is one of its centers of activity, but it still seems a stretch to be listening to (and greatly enjoying) an album of tangos played by an Irish violinist and Irish symphony orchestra. The DVD which comes with this DualDisc alternative will fill you in on how such came about. It’s another of those bonus DVDs which is a promotional piece for the CD rather than a video performance by the artist in question, but still worthwhile to view once at least.
Fionnuala Hunt was music director of the Irish Chamber orchestra for seven years, and has soloed and conducted orchestras around the world, as well as being active in chamber music. She says tango captured her imagination years ago and she spent three years research into the music and creating the arrangements heard on this disc. They take the tango out of its risqué origins and dress it up properly for the light music concert crowd, but they’re not corny or obvious, and Hunt is a terrific fiddler. And there are three Piazzolla numbers among the 13 tracks. Most enjoyable, say I.
Tracks: Jalousie, Oblivion, Libertango, La Cumparsita, Spanish Dance – Andaluza, Chiquin de bachin, Tiemos Inciertos, Tomo y Obligo, Albéniz’ Tango, Desde Otros Tiempos, Dance of the Graceful Girl, Graciela y Buenos Aires, Fino Irish Tango
– John Sunier