Tuesday, December 23

Learning Argentine Tango: Astor Piazzolla's "Tango: Zero Hour"

Astor Piazzolla considered Tango: Zero Hour his finest work, according to AllMusic.com. The editor calls it the culmination of Piazzolla's career. Piazzolla transformed tango, pushed to it to its limits, introduced elements of jazz and classical. Listen to some of tango's early 20th-century staples like "La Cumparsita" and "Seguime, si podes," and then spend a few seconds with his most popular song "Libertango." That is what Piazzolla did to tango. An analysis and proper contextualization of this album is much better suited to a grad student at the very least, but please bear with me as I attempt to explain what Piazzolla's music means to this one.

This album struck me personally. It made me privy to someone else's feelings, normally hidden, and in them I found something not entirely unlike my own. There is no grand sweep of a Romantic orchestra, no dare to marvel in sublime nature. There are no Wagnerian gods and heroes. There is merely Piazzolla's Quinteto Tango Nuevo playing the sorrow and excitement of an unknown man, one unsure of the time, unsure of where he is in the city's back alleys where the fog obscures the coming corner. The longing spoken of by the violin and bandoneĆ³n is piercing in "Milonga del Angel," but it lacks the youthful exuberance behind that of a Romeo and Juilet. There is more than a hint of resignation behind it, too. The man took his shot at making the dream real and failed. The chance will never come again. Be it in love or some other aspiration, the feeling is not so far from what we have known.

Perhaps the strongest of the emotions present in Tango: Zero Hour, longing is hardly the only one. The excitement and anticipation, you can feel the man almost tripping over his own feet in his haste, in "Milonga Loca" counter the loss, offer hope. Some small contentment is found in "Contrabajissimo" after surviving another round of challenges and threats. It comes to a close with "Mumuki. The sadness for lost times and opportunities remains, but there is a growing strength there now, an acceptance that this feeling exists and will come again but that it will not dominate. The dreamlike sense which had permeated the songs before is lifting and the man must awaken, return to life.

My experiences with tango and even music is not enough to declare Tango: Zero Hour a masterpiece, but I will offer this: it is a beautiful work. Should you decide to put your good money toward the album's purchase or borrow it from a friend, do it the favor of not putting it on as background noise but give it your full attention. It deserves it.

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