Not only masterpieces spark new work. Piazzolla in Brooklyn, the new recording by Argentine-born, Brooklyn-based bassist, bandleader, and producer Pablo Aslan, was inspired by a dreadful album.Take Me Dancing, a 1959 jazz tango recording by New Tango master Astor Piazzolla, was dreadful. Piazzolla said so.
Recorded in Buenos Aires with a group of musically bilingual Argentine players, including Daniel “Pipi” Piazzolla, the maestro’s grandson, on drums, Piazzolla in Brooklyn updates Takes Me Dancing into state-of-the-art jazz tango.
“I was attracted by the idea of recreating this … Piazzolla album, through the optic of jazz tango, something that I had spent many years developing for myself,” he says in a news release. “I felt there were many places where the music could be opened up and developed further. I began to imagine which aspects of the pieces could use a more extended formal treatment, which ideas just went by too fast and could stand further elaboration, and where the solo sections could occur. That was the Eureka moment, when I realized that the material in this record had a potential that just needed to be unleashed.”
Aslan has been working on jazz tango for the past 20 years. He grew up in Buenos Aires in the 1960s and 70s, but moved to the United States to study music. After graduating from the University of California Santa Cruz, and attending Cal Arts, and UCLA, he headed to New York City in 1990. By then he had rediscovered tango and had become “the tango guy.” He played traditional gigs, for dancers. For years, he was a regular feature in milongas (tango dance halls) around the United States and in concert performances with Raul Jaurena, Pablo Ziegler, and Yo Yo Ma’s Soul of the Tango. But he also started to probe the possibilities of jazz tango.
Early on he formed a trio with the late saxophonist Thomas Chapin and pianist Ethan Iverson (The Bad Plus), “without really knowing what I was doing. I just formed this band,” he says. ” I put some charts together where everybody could solo and improvise. Interesting stuff would happen, but I couldn’t necessarily say that it was real tango, which is what I was trying to do.”
But the hard work paid off in recordings such as Avantango (2004), Buenos Aires Tango Standards (2007) and, most notably, Tango Grill (2009), an album that earned Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations.
For Aslan, Piazzolla in Brooklyn was a chance to finally address Piazzolla in his own terms. “He was a model and an inspiration for my work,” he says. “But I also systematically avoided his music. I always felt that it was too strong and defined, and that his own interpretations very rarely have been surpassed. In Piazzolla in Brooklyn, I found my own way into Piazzolla’s music, a place where I could create my own world and actually interact with him.”