As with all art, music is most powerful when it evokes a personal connection. Every artist accepts a challenge to create a personal experience using a universal medium, which is why Karl Jung and his Archetypes exist in the first place. Through the use of universal symbols, we can personalize our thoughts and feelings. But the real challenge is achieving that universal resonance through a geographically specific art form. In this case, the tango.
Three years after Gotan Project’s La Revancha del Tango was released by Ya Basta, the album has been repackaged as an import for American consumers, including five bonus tracks. Loosely translated, La Revancha del Tango means “Revenge of the Tango.” Perhaps Gotan Project’s members, Swedish-born Christophe H. Muller, Frenchman Philippe Cohen Solal and ex-pat Argentine guitarist Eduardo Makaroff, selected the title of their album to demonstrate that tango, a music rooted in strict tradition, can perhaps be even more relevant and cutting-edge than much of the current pop music landscape.
To accomplish this, Gotan Project includes the use of a regional accordion-like instrument known as the bandeoneon (also spelled bandonion) throughout the record, mixed with guitars, drums and more modern conventions such as loops and electronics. Renowned bandoenon player/Argentine ex-pat Nini Flores appears on the album’s “El Capitalismo Foraneo,” a track first released in 2000 on Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide two-disc compilation and originally composed by Flores’s father, also a bandoneonista and popular Argentine composer.
Gotan Project successfully injects new elements, such as mid-level club beats, samples and drum machines, into traditional tango structures while maintaining the genre’s sensuality and melancholy. In short, both a club kid and his second-generation Cuban-American parents will enjoy La Revancha del Tango equally. It’s hip enough to be cool, traditional enough to retain tango’s passion and precision.
This mix of old and new is most evident on “Vuelvo Al Sur,” a tango originally recorded by composer Astor Piazzolla and featured in Last Tango in Paris. The most traditional track on the album is “Epoca,” a beautifully sung tango. Both tracks feature the dripping-honey vocals of Cristina Villalonga.
The trio includes a cover of “Chunga’s Revenge,” one of Frank Zappa’s signature songs that appeared on his 1970 album of the same name. A regular favorite for the guitarist, the tune was built around a simple structure but allowed for improvisation depending on mood and the given assembly of players present. Like Zappa, Gotan Project builds a stylized framework over the song’s slow, minimal melody, adding muted flutters from the bandoneon on top of a steady drumbeat.
The bonus tracks consist of four remixes and a video of “Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre).” Peter Kruder (one-half of electronica duo Kruder & Dorfmeister) remixes “Triptico,” and famed British DJ Tom Middleton contributes a Cosmos remix of “Santa Maria.” French house pioneer Pepe Bradock also takes a crack at “Santa Maria,” offering listeners a chance to compare deejays from across the Channel. Finally, the defunct experimental hip-hop group Antipop Consortium tackles “El Capitalismo Foraneo,” taking the track from a slow, steady tango to a pumping club cut.