new tangoI saw Gary Burton play live in the early 2000s at Yoshi’s jazz club in Oakland on the waterfront – where huge trains rumble past outside on the tracks embedded in the middle of the road. His collaborations with Astor Piazzolla on The New Tango were recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 1986, and the resulting LP came out shortly after one of Piazzolla’s solo recording career peaks, the album Tango Zero Hour. The combination of Burton’s virtuosic four-handed vibraphone and the stabbing accordion chords and string glissandos of the Piazzolla band (consisting of Piazzolla on bandoneón with his usual band of violin, piano, guitar and bass) is perfect, either in the hypnotically languid opening track “Milonga is Coming” (a full 12 minutes long), or in the dynamic and virtuosic “Vibraphonissimo”, written especially for Burton. After a short introduction, the latter starts with two and a half minutes of mostly solo vibraphone playing rapid semiquaver note patterns before the full band comes in. That’s when the pace of the vibraphone line picks up even further.

Various elements of “the new tango” are evident in all the tracks here (all of them excellent), including baroque-like harmonic sequences, intricate counterpoint and jazz harmonies. They retain the essential sound of the tango, although Burton’s presence tips the balance closer to jazz in this case. Piazzolla gave his last concert in July 1990. One month later he was struck down by a cerebral hemorrhage while in Paris, and died two years later without regaining consciousness.

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