If the first name that comes to mind when you think of the Nuevo tango is Astor Piazzolla, the second no doubt would be the composer, arranger, producer—the musical polymath—who played piano with Piazolla for more than a decade, Pablo Ziegler. So, for a young Argentinian sax player looking to connect with his musical roots, who better to work with than a musician who helped to pioneer the genre that defines the music of Argentina. Pablo Ziegler’s influence, his stamp, is all over saxophonist Julio Botti’s initial album for ZOHO Music, Tango Nostalgias. He produced the album. He composed half of its 10 pieces rearranging much of the music to effectively accommodate Botti’s soprano sax. And not only does he play piano on all the tracks, but members of his regular trio play on seven of them.
Botti couldn’t have found a better mentor. Although his early musical direction was toward jazz, where the saxophone was the instrument featured more prominently, Piazzolla’s music was an inescapable part of the soundscape of his youth. As a young man, he had met Ziegler and in 2008 they reconnected when Botti settled in New York. The next year he began touring with Ziegler’s band—he had caught the new tango bug. And who can blame him. Piazzolla and Ziegler had revitalized the genre, indeed they had transformed the tango aesthetically. And if Botti’s album is any indication, by grafting his saxophone stylings to the form, he is ready to add his own transformative touch.
The album opens with a Ziegler composition, “Celtic Feast.” It is a lively romp that provides Botti with some nice improvisatory moments. The dark guitar introduction to Ziegler’s “Milongueta” changes the mood dramatically, leading to some effective interplay between the sax and piano. Piazzolla’s “Tanguedia” is a quirky tango, dissonant and rhythmically insistent. Botti takes up the tenor sax for Piazzolla’s dynamic “Imagenes 676,” and is back on soprano for the gorgeous melody of Alejandro Dolina’s “El Vals del Duende.” The sprightly “Sandunga” offers a lively change of pace.
While most of the album was recorded in Argentina, three of the tracks—“Introduccion Al Angel,” “Nostalgias,” and “Milonga del Adios”—were recorded separately in New York and feature a string quartet. It is in these pieces, one can hear the influence of more classical elements in the music. The last, another Ziegler composition, has a rich, haunting theme which Botti plays on the tenor.
Nuevo tango is exciting music. Julio Botti is a talented musician. Pablo Ziegler is a master motivator. Put all three together and you’ve got one outstanding album.