Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bajofondo Tango Club

Bajofondo Tango Club

Astor Piazzolla almost single-handedly modernized tango between the 1950s and 1980s, adding attitude, classical flourishes and jazz riffs to a 100-year old songbook heavy with nostalgia and melancholy. But how do you re-work tango for Buenos Aires in 2004? How do you re-export the sound for a global audience raised on pop and rock, world music and any number of random, rootless traditions?

Well, how about the sensual fuzz of nightclub synths, the anti-song loops of disemboided voices and layers of electronic irony? Now, if you think that means the Bajofondo compilation sounds like the Gotan Project, you are happily mistaken. The sexiest new tango comes, as it should, from Argentina and there's enough talent, energy and innovation on this disc to seduce tango virgins as well as those who found Gotan's debut a tad sleepy.

MCd by Argentinian pop guru Gustavo Santaolalla (the man behind Café Tacuba and the 21 Grams soundtrack), this selection opens with two stunners: the Orquesta del Plata's throbbing "Montserrat" and Campo's "En mi/Soledad", this last a Piazzolla tune given a gorgeous loungey arrangement by Juan Campodónico. Santaolalla's chief collaborator on the Bajofondo project, which was successfully aired live in Buenos Aires a few months back, Campodónico is namechecked throughout and the album feels more like a concept than a compilation.

One of the reasons why this album has the edge on anything Gotan have done to date is the access the producers have to genuine Argentinian tango, in the shape of Adriana Varela's voice, local orchestras and ancient sample material. There is also something to be said for playing from home Paris-imported tango in the 1920s, but the French capital can never quite match Buenos Aires for isolation and sadness. Some of the tracks are forgettable, some merely danceable dubs with scant tango content, but almost all display a clever fusion of heartfelt romance for the tango era and the technological tricks and tics of the emotionally stunted present.

This is not perfect tango. Many virtuosos in Buenos Aires maintain tango can only be revolutionized from within, by those with sufficient classical training and the necessarily obsessive tango psyche to refashion Piazzolla, Troilo, Salgán et al and they may be right. But for a sexy first fix of contemporary tango, I doubt you could do better than "Mi Corazón", "Bruma" or Diego Vainer's "Avenida de Mayo".

The cover is a gorgeous close-up of fish-net stockings. Go and slide into yours, don a technicolour fedora hat and grab anyone who'll dance with you. New tango starts here.

Reviewer: Carlos Musgo

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