Commentary on Piazzolla's Recordings

Our Comments

Most people regard Piazzolla's last years as his best, with Tango Zero Hour, La Camorra and The Rough Dancer... being the highlights. I certainly don't disagree that those are among his best records. However, there are other gems spread throughout his life. For instance, the little known Pulsacion shows Astor experimenting further with Jazz and percussion, and Love Tanguedia features music written for various films. The performance and recording quality are excellent on both CDs. Other strong albums include Oblivion and Tango. If your tastes are such that you can appreciate (or at least tolerate) french singing, then Songe d'une Nuit d'Eté will surely please you. The Piazzollissimo compilation is a mixed bag, with some excellent, hard-to-find pieces, as well as some embarassingly awful attempts by Piazzolla to get "the hippie scene" interested in him.

As far as Piazzolla's live albums go, the Central Park is quite good, as are Tristezas de un Doble A and The Vienna Concert. Piazzolla's live performance at Montreux with Gary Burton is liked by many and often regarded as "important", though personally I don't feel that the vibraphone is an instrument that works well with Piazzolla's music. However, plenty of people disagree with me. Luna is an album I don't care for, because pianist Gerardo Gandini adds dissonant improvisations through most of the pieces, destroying the unity of the pieces. I much prefer Pablo Ziegler's playing, who is the pianist on the Central Park Concert and others, as well as appearing on all of Piazzolla's last studio albums.

On piano, I like Aquiles Delle-Vigne's interpretation of Piazzolla on his Best Tangos CD. He makes Piazzolla sound like Chopin. On guitar, A Quattro's interpretation of Piazzolla is the only one I really like. They add a wild, flamenco air to Piazzolla, and manage to breathe vibrancy into their guitar performances of Piazzolla, something which I find lacking in the other guitar renditions. Though often despised by others, I actually like Kronos Quartet's Five Tango Sensations. The complete seven pieces of the string quartet (not five, as Kronos play) are also found on volume 3 of the Piazzollissimo compilation. They're both good.

In my opinion, the symphonic renditions of Piazzolla are best forgotten.

If you like Piazzolla's last studio albums, then you will surely like Gidon Kremer's Hommage a Piazzolla. This is an absolutely flawless performance of Piazzolla's work, with all the life, excitement and precision of Piazzolla's quintet. At times, it's almost scary how much this album sounds like Piazzolla's Tango: Zero Hour. For an example, listen to Buenos Aires hora cero, and notice how the harsh harpsichord plays against the slow, dark cello. To see where Tango Nuevo can grow after Piazzolla, listen to Quartango's recent album, Espresso. They are very fluid and playful with their tango, and steal bits from jazz and classical throughout. You can tell that they are really enjoying themselves as they play. I was really glad to see them go in this direction, especially after their first album, which is a competent but uninspiring tango standards album.

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John Buckman

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