[NUEVO TANGO] The great Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla earned the ire of tango traditionalists for doing for that once-disreputable dance what composers from Dvorak to Gershwin, Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan did with other grassroots musical forms: used it as the basis for a more sophisticated art music that never sounded like it was slumming.
Since then, classical musicians from Kronos Quartet to Eroica Trio to Yo-Yo Ma have dabbled, with varying success, in the composer's sublimely skewed mixed meters. Although it likewise features a pair of Oregon Symphony players (assistant concertmaster Erin Furbee, bassist Jeff Johnson), Portland-based quintet Tango Pacifico's Piazzolla tribute tweaks the tension between traditional and modern that gives his music its edgy energy.
All the group's members, including San Francisco bandoneón player Adrian Jost, veteran multifaceted guitarist John Mery and pianist Mika Sunago, have studied this music at the source. (These CD release performances will also feature soprano Janice Johnson and dancers Rebecca Rorick Smith and Mike Naus.) The quintet expertly handles the tricky rhythms and shifting imagery of "Escualo" (which mimics the darting moves of its namesake, the shark) and the title track (which means "unruly, rebellious or irreverent"). It ably captures the fervor of "Concierto Para Quinteto" and the cafe lilt of "Decarissimo" and "Fracanapa."
In ballads such as "Romance del Diablo" and "Milonga en Re," which has the feel of a slow dance in a bar at closing time, Furbee's lovingly nuanced, singing violin displays its classical pedigree yet never allows elegance to undermine the music's passion. Revirado deftly dances along the line between tango's origins in Buenos Aires's corners of ill repute and Piazzolla's ambitious art music.
SEE IT: Tango Pacifico plays Thursday, May 13, at 7:30 pm at the Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., 645-8583. $15-$20. All ages.