The Astor Piazzolla centenary has disappeared without a trace so far this year. Like the Beethoven 250 celebrations, one can only imagine how many Piazzolla-centric concerts have been cancelled by the lockdowners. Piazzolla’s Argentine home turf may have a history as a beacon of democracy for the rest of Latin America, but that history has been scarred by intermittent bouts of brutal repression and 2020 was one of those years.
As you would expect, there have been a lot of celebratory Piazzolla albums released recently as well. One of the most imaginative and original of the bunch is the Astor 2020: La Historia Continúa compilation – streaming at Spotify – assembled by guitarist Adam Tully and featuring an allstar cast of nuevo tango talent. Some of these compositions reference Piazzolla classics; others offer a similarly innovative sample of the creativity Piazzolla has inspired over the years.
Pantaleon, by the Pablo Murgier Cuarteto makes an absolutely gorgeous opener, Alex Musatov’s shiveringly expressive violin over the bandleader’s lyrical, neoromantic piano, Lautaro Muñoz’s bass and Federico Biraben’s bandoneon slowly busting a hole in the clouds. Flutters, sudden flares and an achingly soaring violin solo complete this masterpiece.
Agustín Guerrero’s Ciberespacio 2020 gets a bizarre, blippy synth intro from the bandleader before Julio Coviello’s bandoneon and Martín Rodríguez’s guitar hit a tricky but blazing, rhythmically challenging King Crimson drive. An icy, bassy synth interlude takes the song further toward Emerson Lake and Palmer terrain.
Exequiel Mantega’s elegant precise piano chords and Agustín Silberlieb’s low-key flute mingle in the Fain-Mantega project’s Construcción, finally rising to a leaping intensity. The circling polyrhythms between Cesar Rago’s violin, Fernando Otero’s electric piano, Tully’s guitar, Juan Pablo Navarro’s bass, Patricio Villarejo’s cello and eventually Nicolás Enrich’s bandoneon in Otero’s Amarilla are starkly, hypnotically intoxicating. Faro, by Martín Sued is a rivetingly carnivalesque solo bandoneon piece rich with eerie tritones and strange harmonies that grow more and more anthemic.
Tully and his trio contribute Trilonga 2020, with a slowly crescendoing contrast between spiky guitar and Shino Ohnaga’s murky, eerily hypnotic piano, with the occasional role reversal or boogie-woogie interlude. A noir clave slink from Adrián Enríquez’s piano anchors Bernardo Monk’s En el Camino, the most triumphantly orchestral number here, with Javier Kase’s violin, Emiliano Guerrero’s bandoneon and Monk’s sax conversing overhead. His increasingly badass solo is one of the album’s high points.
Manija, by Los Púa Abajo is a surreal mashup of Django Reinhardt swing and nuevo tango, fueled by the incisive, spiraling twin guitars of Ángel Colacilli and Leandro Coratella.. Adios Astor, by bandoneonist Adrián Ruggiero begins as a steady, rather menacing funeral march, hits an austere, wounded Facundo Canosapiano piano interlude that Nicolás Acosta’s bass brings up slowly, the bandoneon and then Coratella’s guitar delivering a defiantly triumphant, “told you so” theme to the foreground before a chillingly muted ending.
Ohnaga’s grittily insistent, brooding piano pairs off with Emilio Longo’s similarly incisive, dancing, circling bass in La Tomajena. The concluding Odisea, by violinist Ramiro Gallo is surprisingly short, at under five minutes, and bizarrely multistylistic, built around a jovial oldschool soul riff, followed by increasingly complex variations from his quintet with Adrián Enríquez on piano, Federico Santisteba on bandoneon, Lautaro Muñoz on bass and Santiago Vera Candioti on guitar. It’s as sophisticated as it is ridiculous. How fortuitous that Tully and crew would wrap up the recording just days before the lockdown.