Lucho/Increase B.V.

Today's review makes me nearly feel a bit daft. À la "where have you been, what rock did you just crawl out from under?" Not you, yours truly! In the off-chance that you're into Nouveau Tango and didn't yet know about these landmark recordings, read on. Otherwise, shrug your shoulders and call me a Kultur Banause - German slang for cultural ignoramus. It gets worse - I didn't know about Osvaldo Pugliese, period. And here I am referring to these as landmark recordings. Well, a little research goes a long way. Then there's the ears. Put 1 +1 together. If you arrive at 5, you know you've got a winner. Even when you're the last one to arrive at the party. How late, you ask?

How about 1989, during a performance in Amsterdam's Royal Carré Theatre when pianist Osvaldo Pugliese celebrated his 84th year, 70 years as professional tango musician and 50 years at the helm of the longest-lived tango formation ever, his own Osvaldo Pugliese Orquesta Tipica? Dubbed the Duke Ellington of tango by none other than radical tango renaissance man Astor Piazzolla, the latter's referred to by Pugliese as the Miles Davis of the genre. According to the liner notes, in opposition to popular notion that these two most famous exponents of contemporary tango were sworn enemies, they in fact made up a little-publicized mutual admiration society. This is confirmed during the concert in question when both, for the first time ever, not only performed on stage, together, but merged their respective formations for the largest tango ensemble ever assembled: 6 bandoneons; 2 Grand pianos; 2 celli; 1 viola; 3 violins; 1 double bass; 1 guitar; 1 singer. They played compositions by both, arranged two of their respective most famous pieces into a single-number medley and introduced three new Piazzolla compositions which were merely 3 months old when the concert took place.

If I was so not with this gig to discover it just now, what turned the tide? Two musical benefactors of mine. They reside in Holland and, on occasion, send musical care packages to insure I don't feed on a steady diet of empty American Pop. These two CDs arrived last week. About Pugliese, the liner notes tell us that his repute was such that when his political views weren't shared with the former Argentinean rulership to prompt jail time, his orchestra continued its tours unruffled but placed, atop his silent Grand piano and in protest, an Argentinean flag and a red carnation - "El Clavel Rojo".

CD 1 is dedicated to Piazzolla compositions, from the earlier "Hora Cero", "Tanguedia 3" and "Milonga Del Angel" to the later "Preludio y Fuga", "Sextet", "Luna" and the medley "La Yumba/Adios Nonino" that joins Osvaldo and Astor at the hip. CD 2 introduces vocals and is dedicated to famous Pugliese numbers composed nearly exclusively by others, with Piazzolla sitting in on one of the bandoneons. These live recordings capture the electricity of an event the producers view as one of the greatest moments in Tango music - the final meeting of two giants, surrounded by highly appreciative aficionados who recognized each tune within mere bars and openly greeted each with applause and anticipation.

From the first tune of CD 1, Piazzolla's unique style of violent aural love making grips the listener. It's suggestive of Picasso's famous La Guernica mural. The music contains the same bold angular frisson, dissonance and superimposed raw emotions, then juxtaposed against steamily lyrical interludes for great intermittent tenderness admittedly missing from the painting. Still, it arose as an image during listening and remains strangely fitting days later. Especially because of the triple charge -- two orchestras, a unique historical encounter, creative tension between audience and performers -- the original shock value inherent in Piazzolla's style is compounded.

He's dredging, like best-forgotten ghosts, Tango's illicit roots back into the harsh light of day; the seedy brothels of Uruguay and Argentina, the poverty, suffering and pugilistic violence that become idealized and romanticized in Pugliese's second half of the concert the way old-time Tango cognoscenti preferred to remember it. Osvaldo's "Miles Davis of Tango" moniker for Piazzolla is uniquely fitting. It captures his insistence on emotional purity, the strip search for what could be discarded as non-essential, whittling the thing proper down to the bare bones. It's not concerned with the prettiness and niceties of love. It's about the primeval forces of lust that caused ancient Gods to rape, plunder and go amok. Compare this to popular sanitized versions of famous Piazzolla tunes. You realize why, in his days, the man was feared as a berserk barbarian. He must have stimulated the kind of attraction lethal accidents provoke on the road - people staring at carnage too fascinated to leave, feeling strangely ill, alive, lucky and ashamed/revolted all at the same time.

One hears the rhythmic obsession of Stravinsky's Sacre, the deconstructionist tendencies of Berlioz, the grandeur of Bartok. In short, you want a raw deal, pun intended? Desire dense? Require shredding bow work, hammered piano cacophony, furiously pumping bellows of multiple bandoneons sighing, breathing and rasping like some demonic forces - Finally Together, Volume I delivers with a rare vengeance. When you finally collapse from sheer emotional exhaustion, Volume II introduces you to the gentler danceable side of Tango. It's every bit as authentic. Just as fittingly, it is dubbed Duke Ellington-ish by Piazzolla himself - for voluptuous arrangements like Ravel, for intellectual esprit and elegance, for more Eros and titillations of foreplay than his own furious finality. The best of the old versus the most daring of the new - in companion volumes no less, shaded by a joined firmament and blessed by the auspiciousness of a unique cultural eclipse. While by now 15 years past, these live recordings let us participate. They become, even to the casual passerby, an unquestionably authentic and intense celebration, of a unique musical vernacular and lifestyle that reached a zenith and apotheosis in that hall in Amsterdam. In short, a landmark watershed recording.