Titles don’t get more to the point than this one: Jazz Tango is where the Argentinian pianist and composer Pablo Ziegler has, in a sense, always resided, but perhaps he’s never stated his case quite so succinctly before. This release won the Grammy (Ziegler’s second) for Best Latin Jazz Album earlier this year.
Jazz Tango features Ziegler’s trio, bandoneon player Hector Del Curto and guitarist Claudio Ragazzi, performing seven songs by the leader and three by Astor Piazzolla, the late tango master in whose employ Ziegler remained for more than a decade. Both Ziegler and his predecessor are customarily associated with the term Nuevo Tango, and by melding the traditions of classic tango with the improvisational openness of jazz, Ziegler certainly moves the former style forward.
This trio doesn’t need electric instrumentation or other contemporary tools to get there. “Blues Porteno,” one of the Ziegler originals, unfolds purposefully, radiating an air of mystery—it’s going to find its way into a neo-noir film soundtrack one of these days. With Ziegler maintaining the trademark rhythm, Del Curto grabs the first solo, Ragazzi the next and Ziegler the last, each taking the core melody someplace different. If that sounds like a fairly loose definition of jazz, then the more complex numbers, like “Elegante Canyenguito,” more than compensate. Here Ziegler moves far out of the tango box and ventures toward free-jazz territory, the guitarist hitting high velocity on his tail and all three eventually settling into an easier though never conventional groove.
Of the Piazzolla tunes, the first, “Michelangelo 70,” is the most dynamic; Del Curto demonstrates what Django might’ve done had he been born in Argentina rather than Belgium. Throughout Jazz Tango, the hybrid is familiar but never less than stirring and satisfying.
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