William Schimmel, accordion; Michael Sahl, piano; Stan Kurtis, violin
Born in the brothels of Buenos Aires and other Argentine ports late in the 19th century, the tango remained the soul music of the arrabal, or slums, until naughty Europeans took it up just before World War I and prompted the Archbishop of Paris to denounce it as "lascivious and an offense to morality." The early arrabal tangos were grim, with lyrics the Grove dictionary of music calls "intensely bitter, ill-humoured and introverted." But as a more sentimental form developed, the dance became respectable and attracted talented composers. In the '20s the singer Carlos Gardel, himself from the Buenos Aires arrabal, almost single-handedly led the tango into its "classic" period of artful romanticism. This is the period Domingo's album enshrines. One of opera's finest tenors, the Spaniard renders some melodic Latin jewels with a matador's bravado and a lover's ardor. Pansera's ensemble, featuring authentic accordionlike bandoneóns, grandly sweeps him along. Yet the whole thing is perhaps too plush considering the tango's humble origins. The Tango Project, by a New York-based trio, ranges from the most famous tango, La Cumparsita, to elegant European variations and gypsy-souled Argentine standards. There are no vocals, and there's an accordion instead of bandoneóns. But humanity and breadth of style flourish. For drama and emotion in a surprisingly eloquent vernacular, the music on The Tango Project is hard to beat. And it doesn't take two to enjoy it.