In 1999, Proper Records came up with a richly rewarding survey of classic tango performances recorded between 1927 and 1948. Oddly enough, in 2000 the Absolute Best label issued a compilation with exactly the same title and span of years. That 18-track disc contains most but not all of the tunes heard on this 20-track Proper disc; frustratingly, the Absolute Best collection also contains a handful of titles that are not included here. Whoever was responsible for this potentially confusing state of affairs should be spanked and sent to bed without supper. This being said, it is time to talk about the music at hand. The tango was born in the vicinity of Buenos Aires, Argentina near the close of the 19th century. It has been traced back to the rapidly paced milonga and the slow, mysterious habanera; the rhythmic pattern common to all three originated on the continent of Africa and underwent alchemical transmutation in the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Thoroughly saturated with a profound weltschmertz apparently stemming from the everyday reality faced by a population largely composed of European immigrants and exiles, the tango was created by the Argentine working class and was first performed professionally in the bordellos of Buenos Aires. Like jazz in north America, the tango flourished after the First World War and soon became trendy among the general public on both sides of the Atlantic after being popularized by exhibition dancers Vernon and Irene Castle. Also like jazz, the tango was perceived as being overtly sexual and was repeatedly demonized by the Christian church. The '20s and '30s were the tango's golden years. The instrumental tango was usually performed by an orquesta tipica, which was a small ensemble composed of bandoneon, violins, bass viol and sometimes piano. Tango vocalists sang with the orquesta or more often with simple guitar accompaniment. The ultimate tango vocalist was Carlos Gardel (c.1887-1935), who is said to have helped to "legitimate" the tango. Whoever sings or plays the tango, the emotional ingredients invariably add up to something between the intensity of flamenco and the profundity of the blues. In addition to Carlos Gardel, this excellent collection includes classic performances by Manuel Pizarro, Eduardo Bianco, Rosita Barrios, Luis Mandarino, Orlando son Orchestre du Bagdad, Rafael Canaro, Bernardo Alemany, the Orchestre Argentin Bachicha and a pair of uncommonly early recordings by the great Astor Piazzolla.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf