Café 1930, a program of tangos performed by the piano quartet Ensemble Contraste and guests, starts out very promisingly. The title of the album is not meant to mislead you into thinking this is what might have been heard in an Argentinean café circa 1930. The program is really more about the tango as a form. The name is a movement from the suite L'histoire du tango, originally for flute and guitar, but arranged here for piano quartet plus a choir. Astor Piazzolla's music, like most of Bach's instrumental works or Beatles' songs, has proven to be very hardy and stands up well when arranged for other instrumentation. Here, members of Ensemble Contraste, in various configurations, give intense, energetic readings that make it easy to imagine that these would have been heard and danced to at a local bistro, including once in a while imitating percussion effects. The passion, melancholy, or goodwill in the cases of Adios Muchachos and La Cumparsita are all there and come across wonderfully. The exceptions are those arrangements that use the choir. All of the arrangements on the album are made by Johan Farjot and Arnaud Thorette, respectively the pianist and violist of the quartet. It's understandable that they made decisions based on what would allow them to collaborate with their musician friends and what they thought would be best for the music. While holding nothing against the Choeur de Paris-Sorbonne, the use of the choir as essentially backup singers on Café 1930, Milonga del angel, and Oblivion doesn't suit the music at all and is frankly unappealing. The simply done arrangement of the tango song "El dia que me quieras" for two voices and piano quartet is much more successfully done and fits with the idea that it might be heard this way in a small club. The jazz version of Oblivion -- the last half of the last track -- also shows how durable Piazzolla's tangos are, but since the track starts out with the chorus again, it's hard to get to it. For those who love tangos, Ensemble Contraste's efforts are highly recommended, but skip the tracks with the chorus.
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AllMusic Review by Patsy Morita
|L' histoire du tango, tango cycle for flute & guitar|