Julio Nudler
| Aldo Delhor
| Laureano Fernández

Astor Piazzolla - Octeto de Buenos Aires. The post-French revolution.

n 1957 Piazzolla formed the Octeto Buenos Aires, lined-up by figures of the highest level, such as Enrique Mario Francini and Hugo Baralis on violins, Atilio Stampone on piano, Leopoldo Federico as second bandoneon, Horacio Malvicino on electric guitar, José Bragato on violoncello and Juan Vasallo on acoustic string bass.

In the early days of this aggregation, Roberto Pansera occupied the seat that later Piazzolla assigned to Federico and Aldo Nicolini was the double bass player, but they did not record with the Octet.

This outstanding outfit reached a level of creativity that Astor himself would very seldom equal later.

Piazzolla says on the back cover of one of the records of the Octeto that «in 1954, while being in Paris, I had the chance to see and listen to many jazz modern groups, among them, the Gerry Mulligan Octet. It was really wonderful to witness the enthusiasm existing among them while they played, that individual joy in the improvisations, the collective pleasure when they played a chord, in sum, something that I had never noticed up to now in tango musicians. As a result of this experience the idea of putting together the Octeto Buenos Aires grew within me. It was necessary to get tango out of that monotony that surrounded it, either harmonically or melodically, rhythmically and aesthetically. It was an irresistible impulse to bestow it with musical hierarchy and provide other ways of showcasing the instrumentalists. In two words, to succeed in making tango something exciting without tiring the player and the listener, and still be tango, and more than ever, music».

Gerry Mulligan was an arranger and baritone sax player, who stood out in modern jazz because he was one of the greats in the recording sessions of The Birth of the Cool. That was an experience whose objective was presenting new compositions and arrangements for nine instrumentalists with the contribution of talented arrangers like Gil Evans, Mulligan himself, John Lewis, John Carisi and soloists like Lee Konitz and Miles Davis, under whose name that record was released. Another combination that made the name of Mulligan popular was his pianoless quartet, which allowed the improvising soloists a greater freedom, because they were not bound to the harmony ruled by the piano chords.

Just like it had happened with his previous aggregations, the appearances of the Octeto Buenos Aires were very scarce and, consequently, it turned out very difficult to keep it in activity. Its members were forced to join other outfits in order to get the financial compensation that the creative level of that octet would never give them.

Unfortunately it only recorded two LPs, the second with a poor technical quality of recording. On the first one, recorded for the Disc Jockey label, he included the compositions "Haydée”, “Neotango”, “Anoné”, "El entrerriano", “Tangology", "Marrón y azul", "Los mareados", "El Marne" ( again Arolas!), "Arrabal" and "A fuego lento". All them with a high quality, but the last five stand out because in them Astor’s creativity is displayed in all its splendor. Piazzolla said: «... I had on my mind that some day I would play “Arrabal”, a tango by José Pascual that in Vardaro’s rendition was for me heavenly. But nothing in life is fortuitous. On my comeback from Paris, in 1955, the first number that I arranged for the Octeto Buenos Aires was precisely that, “Arrabal"».

On the later record, an 10-inch LP, the same size as the 78 rpm discs, recorded for the Allegro label, the level of excellence is even, and the six tango pieces included place it as one of the main milestones in tango discography. They were: "Boedo", "Mi refugio", "Taconeando", "Lo que vendrá", "La revancha" and "Tema otoñal". They are pieces written, respectively, by Julio De Caro, Juan Carlos Cobián, Pedro Maffia, Piazzolla, Pedro Laurenz and Francini; that is to say, a handful of sublime creators in the history of the genre.

There is another rendition of "Taconeando" by the Octeto, included in a CD released by Music Hall titled «Piazzolla/Berlingieri». Besides the tangos played by the orchestra of the pianist Osvaldo Berlingieri, on the record you can find a different interpretation of the Maffia's abovementioned tango tune, as well as "Quinto año nacional" (the pieces that comprised the soundtrack of the film) played by the quintet (1960); "Lo que vendrá", "Prepárense" and "Negracha" by the orchestra with bandoneon and strings (1957). As usual: the release neither tells us about recording dates nor personnel, as if they were unimportant data.

Luis Adolfo Sierra, a great connoisseur, of refined taste and in the Decarean tradition, who was the author of the liner notes in the back cover of the record the Octeto recorded for Allegro, wrote: «The enforcement of rigid traditional patterns, inexorably out-dated by the passing of time, has been delaying the natural and necessary process of adaptation of tango to the influence of renewing evolutionist streams, already definitively assimilated and accepted by the most important musical manifestations of other latitudes through the restiveness of talented creative spirits (Bartók, Villa-Lobos, Chaves) who have adapted revolutionary avant garde criteria to the original expressions of the different genres».

«The Octeto Buenos Aires —continues Sierra—, with its modern aesthetic conceptions and technically advanced performances, completely and without concessions breaks away from regressive conventionalisms that rust tango in its potential richness of contents and form». Due to the importance of the Octeto Buenos Aires as a deed of rupture and fundamental element in the evolution of the music of Buenos Aires, it is worthwhile to quote Carlos Kuri in his book Piazzolla. La música límite: «The unprecedented outburst caused by the multitude of musical discoveries of the Octeto Buenos Aires could neither be compared with the trials of Piazzolla himself in his arrangements for Troilo, nor with the appearance of Salgán in the orchestral universe, and nor even with the group of works with which Piazzolla in the early '50s preceded an inaugural blow; pieces already different and suggestive, but all them reconcilable with the tango orchestras of that time».

«This is the exact place —says Kuri— where the birth of contemporary tango is filed in the registry, a point of no return, the beginning of the last mutation in the inner self of tango... It is not only because of the quantity of technical elements that he displays in the design of his arrangements: politonality, rhythmic diversity, variations for bandoneon in quintuplet and sextuplet of thirty-second notes; no one keeps the secret that gives birth to an epoch, but here the before and the after Piazzolla starts in an inexorable way».

And Sierra added: «Upon the keystone of the classic tango sextet... the numerical and expressive dimensions were increased by the contribution of the cello and the striking inclusion of the electric guitar. But this was not a case of coldly putting together an instrumental unit of eight players to later choose the names of its members. I don't think, for example, that Piazzolla had thought of an electric guitar without having in mind the name of Malvicino; in like manner with Francini, Bragato, Baralis, Stampone. There is an organic and functional sense in this constructive initiative. It is not a question of presenting the capricious originality of not including singers and to become deeply involved in the boastful attitude that this is for listening and not for dancing. It has to do with a thorough journey towards an aesthetic revaluation».

Horacio Malvicino, reminiscing that period, says: «I got acquainted with Astor at a jazz club, where around 1955 all the fans of the new jazz trends used to meet: the Bop Club. This venue was frequented by a group of people that followed the bop style. Bop had started in the United States in 1947 with Charlie Parker and other musicians that were in the vanguard of jazz. Astor used to go on Thursdays and there we met. One day he heard me improvising: «That's what I want in my octet, a guy who knows how to ad lib.», he told me and he made me join his group. Knowing beforehand what I could do with my instrument, he wrote sections where I had to improvise, especially in the endings. Besides the complex writing for the whole ensemble I had the freedom to improvise fill-ins. All this infuriated the tango fans... it was a total madness».

Piazzolla, instead, seeing a much bitter side, would recall time later: «The Octeto Buenos Aires, in 1955, was an artistic impact, but our work did not last long. In order to make recordings we had to make concessions, we had to decline our rights. The same happened with another LP, Tango en hi-fi. People neither know nor care about who the impresario releasing a record is, but they know and admire the artist who made it. I was the one who paid with his own money to nearly all the musicians in the recording sessions while since then the profits are gathered by others. We still are suing for that. But who cares, who defends the creators?».

From: "Astor Piazzolla El tango culminante", by Julio Nudler, Aldo Delhor y Laureano Fernández, Editorial La Página S.A., Buenos Aires, 2001.