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January/February 2009

Fernando Otero
Pagina de Buenos Aires
Nonesuch Records

To call Fernando Otero a tango artist might be accurate, but conveys none of the aggressiveness and freneticism at the heart of his new album, Pagina de Buenos Aires. The opening track, “Chirimbolos,” is a typical study in tension. Otero and his accompanists—violinist Nick Danielson and cellist Inbal Segev—attack the melody with uncommon zeal. The tune proceeds less like dance music than one of Carl Stalling’s Warner Bros. cartoon scores being played several beats-per-minute too fast. In that sense, “Chirimbolos” and much of what follows is more avant-garde than anything else. Even when the composer slows down and mellows out, as he does on “La Vista Gorda” and “Lejana,” there is still a melodramatic edge to the music that keeps it in the foreground at all times.

Perhaps this has something to do with the small group settings. Pagina de Buenos Aires is never more easygoing than when Otero scores for and conducts a large orchestra. “Siempre Amor—Las Ruedas Siguen Girando” is brief, but it is the album’s most arresting performance. Accompanied by Hector Del Curto’s bandoneon, the orchestra soars into John Ford territory. Imagine the soundtrack to a Monument Valley scene in an old Western. One song later, Otero is back to a small group setting, and to music that is committed to the unsettlement of tradition.

Originally published in January/February 2009
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