Astor Piazzolla:
The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night

I do not know if we will recur in a second
Cycle, like numbers in a periodic fraction;
But I know that a vague Pythagorean rotation
Night after night sets me down in the world

On the outskirts of this city. A remote street
Which might be either north or west or south,
But always with a blue-washed wall, the shade
Of a fig tree, and a sidewalk of broken concrete.

This, here, is Buenos Aires. Time, which brings
Either love or money to men, hands on to me
Only this withered rose, this empty tracery
Of streets with names recurring from the past.

--Jorge Luis Borges. From "The Cyclical Night." Translated by Alastair Reid

This cycle of 14 dances was commissioned by the Hispanic American Arts Center for their production of Graciela Daniele's Tango Apasionado. Reworked by Piazzolla and American Clavé producer, musician & founder Kip Hanrahan into a strand-alone suite, the suite was given the name The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night. Billed as a dark "nostalgic dream" of a turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires, the work deliberately recalls the mythical BA of Borges as seen in his poetry and later stories. Indeed, the title itself is a nod to "La noche cíclica," a central poem from El otro, el mismo, quoted above.
To anyone who already knows the music of Piazzolla, the opening of the suite will be welcomely familiar but also a bit unusual. The trademark bandoneón is there, of course, introducing the deliciously lazy tango that serves as both the prelude and finale. But missing is the accustomed clarity and polish; more subdued are the occasional bursts of musical intricacy. Piazzolla wanted the recording to give the impression of "half-drunk musicians" playing in a bordello, and both the music and production bend toward that goal quite admirably. The music conveys a haunting sense of beautiful weariness, a melancholy more akin to nostalgia than to genuine sadness. Melodies and themes slip comfortably into the ear and the imagination; and the occasional anachronistic touch of jazz saxophone or electric guitar works to broaden the aura of nostalgia rather than offend any sense of authenticity. The production is fairly low fidelity, which also adds an antique distance to the music -- I find that my mind keeps adding the hiss and crackle of an old record. This is not to say that the production is muddled; the players still come through clear and distinct, but there is a touch of lazy familiarity in the music, as if this band of tangueros has been entertaining the same crowd for many comfortable years.
With or without the Borges connotations, I am very fond of this album. I find it soothing but also wistful and sad, like a walking through the streets as darkness falls, looking into the glowing windows of strange pubs and watching the unknown regulars go about their life: so far away, so close. This is music from a lost world, a lost Buenos Aires that belongs to no one and yet to everyone, like Camelot, the American West, or the distant mirrors of the Paris salons. It speaks to all who yearn for a mythic nostalgia; and that is perhaps the most Borgesian element of all.


1. Prologue (Tango Apasionado) (1:45)
2. Milonga for Three (5:59)
3. Street Tango (4:12)
4. Milonga Picaresque (1:35)
5. Knife Fight (1:49)
6. Leonora's Song (3:33)
7. Prelude to the Cyclical Night (Part One) (0:47)
8. Butcher's Death (2:22)
9. Leijia's Game (2:21)
10. Milonga for Three (Reprise) (5:57)
11. Bailongo (1:44)
12. Leonora's Love Theme (3:51)
13. Finale (Tango Apasionado) (3:31)
14. Prelude to the Cyclical Night (Part Two) (0:51)


Astor Piazzolla -- Bandoneón
Pablo Zinger -- Piano
Fernando Suarez Paz -- Violin
Paquito D'Rivera -- Alto sax, clarinet
Andy Gonzales -- Bass
Rodolfo Alchourron -- Electric Guitar

Produced by Kip Hanrahan and Astor Piazzolla
Notes from the American Clavé CD:

Fernando Gonzales:
This album, is a labyrinth of glass and mirrors. Here is Piazzolla retracing tango's history back to the piringundines, the whorehouses in the outskirts of the old Buenos Aires. As the music grows, Piazzolla imagines Jorge Luis Borges imagining a muddy and baroque world of cuchilleros and compadritos, fast knives and fast dancers, rough milongas and rougher cañas.
Here is also Piazzolla looking back at Piazzolla. And as he does so, traces of old melodies, familiar gestures and what is to come, turn around and around in a tight embrace, like dancers.
The setting is the turn of the century, yet the music announces what Piazzolla will be doing 50, 60 years later. Time, here, is circular. Somewhere in the shadows, Borges, with an ironic smile, approves.

Kip Hanrahan, Producer:
El Indio (Suerez Paz) and I were in the studio early one morning trying to run down some rough edges when El Troesma (Piazzolla) burst through the door (really, life sometimes does follow the gestures of a B movie). "What the hell do you two think you're doing? Nancy told me you were here and I told her that if you try to 'correct' anything I'll shoot you!" Hey, here's this guy who, when we were recording TANGO: ZERO HOUR, would argue with us for days about whether a violin decay sounded as good as it actually was. "Yeah, but ZERO HOUR needed the clarity of a vision, this record needs the darkness of a nostalgic dream. It's music meant to be played by half-drunk musicians in a bordello," he said, glancing around the recording studio. "Turn it into chamber music and you'll be eating dinner with Borges tonight." El Indio no doubt shrugged and muttered something about his deity and how he'll never be able to anticipate El Troesma del Nuevo Gotang, I probably laughed, and Astor offered to take us out for a drink. Turn of the century Buenos Aires was never a geographical or historical location, just consult Borges' books. On that September morning in 1987 in New York, we were passing through it just in the way a porteño genius demanded his milongas cruel.

CD Information

The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night was released by American Clavé in 1993 as AMCL 1019. Although this CD is now out of print, the entire work was re-realeased on a 3-CD set entitled Piazzolla -- The Late Masterpieces: The Complete Work on American Clave, AMCL 1022. You may order it directly from Rounder Records below:

The Late Masterpieces: The Complete Work on American Clave, AMCL 1022. $40.50.

AMG Card -- You can also look up the All-Music Guide's entry on Rough Dancer.

AudioFiles -- Samples of Rough Dancer are available for RealAudio listening at the Piazzolla Listening Booth.

Other Borges-related Works by Piazzolla:

El Tango -- (1965). Piazzolla and his band set some of Borges' poems to music in this out-of-print 1965 LP.

Borges & Piazzolla -- (1996). A new recording of the works on the 1965 El Tango LP, this CD features Daniel Binelli, Jairo, and Lito Cruz.


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--A. Ruch
21 May 2000