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Astor Piazzolla

Tango Zero Hour

Part One Chapter 11

Tango, tragedia, comedia, kilombo! Opening in a bordello, ‘Tanguedia III’ opens Tango: Zero Hour, Astor Piazzolla’s magnificent new album. Echoing the whorehouse cant, ice cubes crackle as you pour Cinzano into a glass … Through your hair, to the nape of your neck, my mouth weaves its way; there, in that secret glade where Indian summer holds sway, my lips begin to graze. Giggling, you shrink into my arms and caress the back of my hands.

̶  Oh Sprague, this music makes me homesick!
̶  It does? Why?

Pine tar and damp vegetation, cinnamon, cloves and gentian: Your scent signs your signature.

̶  I play tango, with a band in Zürich.
̶  Really?
̶  Yes. We play in bars and clubs.
̶  I’d love to hear you!
̶  You will, one day. Cheers!

Upon those words the fragrant chill of the vermouth becomes a thrill; we step into the living room and fall silent on the sofa, listening to the music.

‘Tanguedia III’ is enthralling; its insinuating rhythms stop and go, shifting tempo. At times every instrument in the quintet becomes percussive, until the slow-burning fire bursts into a full-blown conflagration.

Screenshot from the DVD ‘Astor Piazzolla in Portrait’ (BBC/Opus Arte, 1996)

Screenshots from the DVD ‘Astor Piazzolla in Portrait’ (BBC/Opus Arte, 1996)

̶  Is tango very different from classical music, Marietta? To play, I mean.
̶  Oh yes, and it’s not just a question of technique. It’s more about attitude. The passion, the feel, the rhythmic drive—tango’s got a whole culture behind it, a fierce pride.

Neuchâtel is a world away from Romani ritual: How did you acquire that fierce pride and passion, that fire that branded ‘Tzigane’ in my heart? I’m sure you’re just as convincing in the idiom of Buenos Aires low-life.

̶  You hear that slow, descending line, the minor key? you ask.
̶  Yes.
̶  That’s the milonga pattern. It comes from song. Compare it to the first piece, and you clearly hear the two extremes of tango: very strict, driving rhythm, and extremely romantic music.
̶  That’s a compelling combination!
̶  Yes, and it’s not just across pieces, but in every piece! That’s tango, that blending of extremes. So when you play it, you’ve got to think more vertically, in terms of rhythms and chords, and not just horizontally, as melody, like in classical music.

Dark and brooding, ‘Milonga del Angel’ distills its tristeza.

̶  You hear the violin there? Those long, détaché strokes? It’s imitating the bandoneon, its elongated lines.
̶  That’s right!
̶  You hear that emulation in other ways too. For example, when the bandoneon player, after pulling out his arms…

I feel my smile mimicking the gesture you’re miming.

̶  …pushes in to play the first phrase, you get a huge rhythmic pulse towards the first note. Well, on the violin, you use bow speed to get that effect, on the point of the beat.
̶  Interesting, that kind of transposition.
̶  Yes. That’s part of the bag of tricks, to sound like a real tanguera.

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