The title of Buenos Aires Tango Standards, a new album being released in mid-February on the Zoho label, is a little misleading. According to the album notes, Pablo Aslan and his group certainly seem to be covering a number of tango standards as the title suggests. But his stated purpose is to provide something more like a fusion of tango and jazz, which would seem to hint that the standards aren’t really…er, standard.
I’m not complaining, just observing the irony. It seems to me that a well-developed sense of irony always comes in handy when writing a music review, and I’m happy to report that mine is alive and well. For example, I find it a little ironic to be reviewing a tango album, considering that I hate to dance. (Mrs. Big Geez will be happy to confirm this.) But of course it’s not necessary to be a dancer to evaluate the music itself, and that’s what I need to get busy and do.
Aslan is a respected and experienced acoustic bassist, a native of Argentina who came to the US many years ago, although he’s periodically returned to Buenos Aires to recharge his tango batteries. He’s always been deeply involved in exploring ways to combine the music he learned when young with post-bebop jazz, and that’s what this album is all about. It’s his second as primary artist, following 2004’s Avantango. (He collaborated on Tango Fatal in 2000.)
He’s joined here by Abel Rogantini on piano, Jorge Retamoza on both tenor and baritone sax, Gustavo Bergalli blowing trumpet, and Daniel “Pipi” Piazzolla on drums. It’s a good group and Aslan is a talented bassist, but I’m a little unsure about the advisability of the instrument as the lead. Call me old-fashioned, but as much as I appreciate the contribution of a good bass player to almost any kind of music, it’s just always seemed to me that a bass fiddle is best utilized as an accompanying instrument.
On this album, the tunes I found most pleasing to my ear seemed to be those with strong leads by the other soloists, with Aslan taking a secondary role. In all fairness, that could be my just-mentioned bias against a bass lead, but that’s how the music spoke to me. A good example is the cut that’s probably my favorite on the album, “Loca Bohemia”, which showcases Retamoza on sax. Aslan does have some good solos later in the tune, which I thought were more appropriately placed. On the opposite side of the coin is “Don Agustin Bardi”, which is dominated by Aslan’s bass and was my least favorite.
For something a little different, I’d recommend “Ventarrón”, with Retamoza picking up his baritone sax and dueling Aslan’s bass. Unusual, but it works really well and was probably my second favorite on the album. Another example of a tune with a more conventional lead instrument is “Bahia Blanca”, with strong work by Bergalli on the trumpet. (Although not to the heights mentioned on the album notes, which refer to him “channeling Miles Davis”.)
The album notes, mostly written by Aslan, spend quite a bit of time establishing the pedigree of every song, as to its place in the tango repertoire. That’s fine but probably of more interest to someone like Robert Duvall, who famously has devoted himself to the art of the tango. I suspect that the average listener is more interested in how the music sounds, and whether the fusion of tango and jazz works. I believe it does and can recommend the album for its overall musicality, even if my personal taste runs to a little less bass lead.