Like all great musical traditions of the Americas, the scope of tango is broad, its history rich. A sample of that tradition from a contemporary electro-acoustic tango to the early twentieth century’s Gallo Ciego — was on vivid display when the innovative chamber ensemble Fear No Music joined with Tango Pacifico for a concert Friday night at the Wieden + Kennedy Building.
The friendly informality and passionate musicianship of the combined groups, their informative comments, and the dancers who glided around the floor, all helped make the music accessible to the enthusiastic audience.
Both hard and soft, tango is a music of mood swings. It shifts from bold body rhythms to sweet melodic passages, from sentimental to aggressive, from romance to the thrust of a knife as in La Punalada (the stab of a dagger), one of the 11 traditional tangos presented during the program’s second half.
The defiance of tango’s working class roots in late nineteenth century bordellos, its legacy of tough guys and the women who wronged them, can still be heard in the music of Astor Piazzolla, three of whose compositions opened and set the tone for the evening.
But Piazzolla transformed tango when he returned to Buenos Aires from Europe in 1955, armed with a stick of dynamite in each hand jazz improvisation in one and modern classical harmonies in the other. Making liberal use of counterpoint, Piazzolla moved tango from the dance to the concert hall. His Escualo, for instance, performed by violinist Erin Furbee, cellist Adam Esbensen and pianist Mika Sunago, is full of shifting, syncopated rhythms, unexpected breaks and jumpy narrative development.
The program also included a selection from Danzas Argentinas, by Alberto Ginestera. Evoking the sweet sadness of the pampas that lies behind tango, this beautiful piece was followed by two tangos from contemporary Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne, performed by violist Joel Belgique and pianist Sunago.
Composer Joe Waters also added Seduction: I Want to Make Love to You, which in a fugue-like structure used tango techniques and the theremin, an electronic instrument sounding like a slithering string section, which gave the piece a cartoon-ish edge.
Even the less daring pieces displayed the music’s great variety, ranging from strong, Habanera-flavored milonga rhythms to lovely ballads such as Piazzolla’s haunting Soledada. And though dancers usually dislike Piazzolla, the clarity and purpose of the combined ensembles lured them to the floor, moved no doubt by the emotional depth that underlies all great tangos.