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Tango? Not according to the Latin Academy

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I am left wondering about this committee of experts in tango and jazz, who carefully tallied up the percentage of tango in my CD and decided I came up short.
By Pablo Aslan

This past summer, members of the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Science (LARAS) were mailed voting instructions for the prestigious Latin Grammy Awards 2007.

Voting on a wide variety of genres and subgenres, such as Brazilian, Mexican, tango, Latin jazz, members will have to choose among 100s of recordings submitted for nomination by the LARAS membership, a distinguished group of industry insiders, musicians, record labels, producers, etc. to which I am honored to belong.

In the tango category, voters will take their pick from a list of 19 releases. Unfortunately, the list does not include my most recent recording Buenos Aires Tango Standards (Zoho Music). This CD, a collection of traditional tangos performed by a group of Argentine musicians, was deemed outside the category by the Latin Recording Academy.

According to an email from LARAS: "During the screening meeting, the Pablo Aslan recording was carefully screened by experts in both jazz and tango. The committee listened to the recording and felt the recording did not have enough tango elements to remain in the Tango category and therefore it remained in the Jazz category." Furthermore, "Our rule is: Genre-specific albums must consist of 75% or more playing time of the specific genre."

I am left wondering about this committee of experts in tango and jazz, who carefully tallied up the percentage of tango in my CD and decided I came up short. I am flattered that the jazz experts consider my music part of that great tradition, which has been so important in my musical upbringing. I am not sure there is 75% jazz in my music, though, but that may not be important to them. I find that by nature jazz musicians are very open-minded.

We Argentines are very jealous of our tango and put premium value on authenticity. I should know, after all, I've devoted the last 20 years of my life to playing, studying and teaching this music.

My trajectory as a tango musician is long and as they say, part of the public record. In the late '80s and early '90s, long before tango became the ubiquitous phenomenon it now is, I was a regular fixture in tango clubs across the United States. I played for 100s of dancers in Los Angeles, Seattle, Oakland, Denver, New York, Boston, Washington, Portland, etc. I also traveled to South America, Europe, Japan and Russia playing with some of the best tango musicians in the world (Nestor Marconi, Fernando Suarez Paz, Pablo Ziegler, Alberto Podesta, Horacio Deval, Raul Jaurena, to name a few) and with other non-tango musicians who approached the music with reverence. One such non-tango musician who contracted my services was Yo Yo Ma, with whom I toured the US and Japan alongside Astor Piazzolla's old sidemen. When Shakira asked her producer, the legendary Argentine arranger Jorge Calandrelli, to hire top-notch tango artists to record the introduction to her hit "Obsession", I was flown to Miami to lend my expertise and authenticity.

This situation reminds me, of course, of the trouble Astor Piazzolla had with his brand of tango. The animosity that his music engendered speaks of the passion that Argentines share for the tango. Yet nowadays nobody but the most recalcitrant dinosaurs would dare call Piazzolla's music anything other than tango. But according to the Latin Academy's rules, he would be not be admitted into the tango category: imagine, he used an electric guitar, hardly a traditional tango instrument at the time he introduced it. That's 20% of his quintet's orchestration! Piazzolla's rhythmic concept, while rooted in tango, was entirely his own. Well, let's say it was only about 45% tango, being generous and the rest is in his particular non-danceable beat (ask around in the tango dance halls what they think of Piazzolla as tango dance music). His compositions? Well, he mostly wrote his own, unlike traditional artists, who rearrange from the standard repertoire, as I did on my CD. Piazzolla's main influences were Béla Bartók, JS Bach, Igor Stravinsky and Gerry Mulligan and so on. Mr. Piazzolla, it's clear, would not be in the tango category, according to the LARAS experts.

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