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Astor Piazzolla: Concierto de Nacar

Argentine bandoneon master Astor Piazzolla is one of this century’s most important musicians. His radical transformation of his native tango from its back alley origins to the grand, symphonic boulevard of jazz improvisation, classical harmonics/dissonances and tempestuous Latin melodies of Tango Nuevo, places him right up there with the likes of Satchmo, Stravinsky and the Duke. At the center of Piazzolla’s revolution was the melancholic darkness of his bandoneon. A humble relative of the better-known accordion, the diatonic bandoneon was considered to be mere coloration until the master’s sheer will expanded it into a lead instrument capable of saxophone-like solos and piano-esque harmonics (Piazzolla’s evolution was personally encouraged by tango maestro Carlos Gardel, composer Alberto Ginastera and Nadia Boulanger).

In 1960, Piazzolla formed his seminal Quinto Nuevo Tango (bandoneon, piano, violin, guitar, bass). While he flirted with sextets, octets and nonets, the quintet proved to be the ideal milieu for Piazzolla’s greatest performances. At the time of his death in 1992, Piazzolla’s oeuvre had given him not only world-wide fame but acceptance amongst musician peers from the Kronos Quartet to Grace Jones (she covered his “Libertango”). Recently, Milan Records has released four exciting live conciertos culled from his final 15 years (1974-1989). The best of the batch, 1984’s Libertango, features definitive versions of “Milonga del Angel” and “Contrabajisimo.” Songs From A Heavy Heart (subtitled, “essential tangos 1984-1989),” is the definitive compilation of Piazzolla’s latter-day studio-soundtrack-live recordings, features his meisterwerk “Adios Nonino.” Save for “Tango Remembrances,” cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s digitally-aided “duet” with Piazzolla, his tribute album Soul Of The Tango feels like tango lite-well-played and beautiful yes, but not enough of that Astor passion. Viva Astor Piazzolla!

Originally Published