Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Early in this century the tango was renowned as the most salacious of dances; then again, early in the 19th century, so was the waltz. Listen to the recreations on Atlantic's original-cast album of Tango Argentino and you understand how melodrama could go to your gonads, but only in theory--this is the sexuality of another time as well as another place. I'm not going to tell you Astor Piazzolla's nuevo tango puts the pizzazz back in, but for damn sure he brings tango into the present, drawing on Bartok and Ellington and a childhood on New York's Lower East Side to invent a tango that understands itself from an aesthetic distance. Without him, Tango Argentino would have been Spanish to me.

At 67, Piazzolla finds himself a belated cult hero in the U.S. His current releases include collaborations with vibraharpist Gary Burton on Atlantic Jazz (tango has always had its genteel ambitions) and classical conductor Lalo Schifrin on Nonesuch (and its grand ones, which Piazzolla deserves without altogether fulfilling) as well as two on American Clave: the brand-new La Camorra: The Solitude of Passionate Provocation and music for a theatre piece called Tango Apasionado. The latter album, entitled The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night, illustrates the genre's history in much the way Tango Argentino did, with the added commentary of Piazzolla's characteristic dissonances and mood swings, and offers plenty of room to a quintet comprising piano, violin, guitar, bass, and his own accordionlike bandoneon. But believe him when he claims the prize is Tango: Zero Hour, now rereleased on Sting's Pangaea label. I'm no laser junkie, but the sonic detail, sustained invention, and satisfying overall shape of this music were made for the CD format--it's really not enough to listen to half of it. This is historic pop transformed into contemporary chamber music--chamber music with plenty of gonads.

Playboy, Oct. 1988


Sept. 1988 Nov. 1988