It’s not hyperbole to say that Astor Piazzolla is the single most important figure in the history of tango, a towering giant whose shadow looms large over everything that preceded and followed him. Piazzolla’s place in Argentina’s greatest cultural export is roughly equivalent to that of Duke Ellington in jazz — the genius composer who took an earthy, sensual, even disreputable folk music and elevated it into a sophisticated form of high art. But even more than Ellington, Piazzolla was also a virtuosic performer with a near-unparalleled mastery of his chosen instrument, the bandoneon, a large button accordion noted for its unwieldy size and difficult fingering system. In Piazzolla’s hands, tango was no longer strictly a dance music; his compositions borrowed from jazz and classical forms, creating a whole new harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary made for the concert hall more than the ballroom (which was dubbed “nuevo tango”). Some of his devices could be downright experimental — he wasn’t afraid of dissonance or abrupt shifts in tempo and meter, and he often composed segmented pieces with hugely contrasting moods that interrupted the normal flow and demanded the audience’s concentration. The complexity and ambition of Piazzolla’s oeuvre brought him enormous international acclaim, particularly in Europe and Latin America, but it also earned him the lasting enmity of many tango purists, who attacked him mercilessly for his supposed abandonment of tradition (and even helped drive him out of the country for several years). But Piazzolla always stuck to his guns, and remained tango’s foremost emissary to the world at large up until his death in 1992. — Steve Huey, AMG
The music of Astor Piazzolla epitomized our situation in the modern world with his fusion of folkloric beauty and contemporary tension. He forged a new music that challenged the traditionalist and left the adventurous craving more. He took the music of the great tango masters like Garde, ripped it away from the velvet-walled concert hall and the soft-cushion drawing room, and slapped it down on the pavement of Buenos Aires. Reviled by the critics, shunned even by the conservative government, his music spoke to the next generation, and popular and jazz musicians and listeners all over the world eventually fell under the spell of his “nuevo tango.” In recent years, Piazzolla has taken the new tango back to the concert halls, composing and performing works for chamber ensembles like Kronos Quartet, larger groups like The Orchestra of St. Luke’s, even an opera company. These works brought his once radical music back into the mainstream.
But it is his work with the quintet that will be best remembered. The striking violence he could achieve in a pas de deux with violinist Paz, the beauty of his bandoneon playing off of Ziegler’s piano, the fierce power of guitar strings and his reeds bouncing off a long, bowed bass line; these are the moments that made Astor Piazzolla a catalyst for new music, a creator rather than a player. To see this band play was a priceless wonder, a joy that too few took part in over the last few decades. My one and only time in a concert with Piazzolla turned my head around, made me look at all art with a different eye, and music with a more readily challenged ear.
It is a typical irony that it was in the last few years of his life that some of his bestrecordings, some of his darkest tangos, were finally re-issued in the U.S. Live In Vienna (Messidor/Rounder), Love Tanguida (Milan), and even his 1989 chamber piece Five Tango Sensations (Elektra) are all the tribute one could pay to a lifetime of musical confrontation and artistic boldness. – Cliff Furnald, Rootsworld
The liner notes:
Strip to your underwear if you’re not in black tie. Get obscene if you want, but never casual. You feel an urge? Touch its pain, wrap yourself around it. Don’t put on airs. What you seem must be what you are, and what you are is a mess, honey, but that’s okay, as long as you wear it inside. Look sharp! Don’t slouch. See anyone slouching here? Stay poised, taut, on guard. Listen to your nerves. It’s zero hour. Anxiety encroaches, wave after wave, with every squeeze of the bandoneon. Already twisted by the contraposto of uprightness and savagery, this new tango turns the screw even tighter with its jazz dissonances and truncated phrasings. No relief. No quarter. At zero hour only passion can save you. Time is flowing backward and forward into the vortex. From the rooms come a warm air and a choked melody of syncopated gasps. Something throbs. A vein under your skin. It’s inside you now, this bordello virus, this pleasure that tastes so much of anger and grief. When you find pools of pure, sweet light, bathe in their waters, balm for your lacerations. For the whiplash scars the bandoneon is leaving on your soul. If this were the old milonga of the slums, or those popular songs about painted faces and purloined love, you could let distance sketch a smile on your lips. Cheap irony. You won’t get away that easy. This music is for you. It always had you in mind, your habits, your twitches, the tiny blood vessels bursting inside you when you hide what you feel. So walk in the parlor, bring your friend or come alone. Come hear the master as he unravels the wind inside the box, as he presses the growling tiger that threatens to embrace him and shapes the beast into a purring kitten. And tiger again. And kitten. It’s all a game. You’re going to play it too, you’re going to dance with the tiger. Don’t worry, your life is in danger. Remember your instructions. Listen up. And suffer, motherfucker, this is the tango.
– Enrique Fernandez –
Astor Piazzola & the New Tango Quintet- Tango: Zero Hour
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ cover? | 66mb
he’s dead now but there’s many living musicians playing his music who you could support. Gidon Kremer, Kronos Quartet, et all.
Check out this interview with Piazzola (English & Español). Among other things, it is revealed that Nadia Boulanger (piano-playing sister to Thereminist Clara Rockmore — see archives) is the one who got him to start fusing tango and classical music.
And here’s the biography: Astor Piazzola: Chronology of a Revolution