Quadro Nuevo

Tango Bitter Sweet

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There was a time when doing something experimental in tango could not only result in bad reviews from music critics who didn't understand what you were doing -- it could also result in bodily harm. The late Astor Piazzolla, often hailed as the Charlie Parker of tango, was literally beaten up in the streets of Buenos Aires by opponents who disliked his vision of tango (which was a major departure from the old-school tango of Carlos Gardel, Carlos Di Sarli, Aníbal Troilo and Hugo del Carril). But these days, Piazzolla-minded tango is very much the norm -- and tango enthusiasts are unlikely to resort to fisticuffs even if an artist does something expansive that they don't comprehend. The word "expansive" easily applies to Quadro Nuevo, a European tango-oriented quartet that takes a lot of chances on their 2006 recording Tango Bitter Sweet. This 69-minute CD has a strong Piazzolla influence, which is hardly unusual in the 21st century; the tiny, insignificant minority of people who still consider Piazzolla a musical heretic are like the tiny, insignificant minority of people who still believe that Dixieland is the only legitimate form of jazz. What makes Tango Bitter Sweet unusual is the way Quadro Nuevo combines that Piazzolla influence with so many non-tango influences; during the course of the album, elements of Piazzolla are blended with everything from Brazilian samba to French chanson to Italian and Mediterranean folk to jazz. One of the selections, in fact, is an intriguing arrangement of Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur" -- and there are plenty of other songs on this disc that originated outside of tango but receive a tango makeover, including Michel Legrand's "The Windmills of Your Mind" and Rezso Seress' "Gloomy Sunday" (a Hungarian gem that found its way to jazz after receiving English lyrics and being recorded by Artie Shaw and Billie Holiday in the early '40s). But Tango Bitter Sweet, for all its risk-taking, is ultimately a very charming and accessible album. The solos are quite lyrical, and Tango Bitter Sweet is happily recommended to anyone who is seeking something fresh from tango.

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