July 2006

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Now that Guillermo Klein lives in Barcelona, his 11-piece Los Guachos ensemble appears in New York all too infrequently. The Village Vanguard (Jun. 15th) was just the place to host this spine-tingling enterprise, the fruit of extended Smalls and Jazz Standard residencies with the city's best and brightest - including tenorists Bill McHenry and Chris Cheek, altoist Miguel Zenon, trumpeter Diego Urcola, guitarist Ben Monder and more. Klein played piano and sang, plainly but emotively, in Spanish. Bassist Fernando Huergo, percussionist Richard Nant and drummer Jeff Ballard made Klein's highly developed rhythmic ideas flow like water. Nant switched to trumpet on the mournful "El Duelo and the witheringly complex "La Última .

To open, Klein offered the dark dissonance and triple-meter drive of "No Name . They continued with the sunny modality of "Juana , the joyous, hiccupping beat of "Child's Play , the warped bitonality of "Intercambio Moral and the multi-meter tangle of "Miula . Switching to acoustic guitar, Klein segued from "El Tiempo , a downcast ballad, to "Flores , an eccentrically poppy gem. This music is absolutely one of a kind: Klein's folkloric South American influences mesh with sumptuous horn writing and a thoroughly modern jazz sensibility. The crowd simply wouldn't leave without an encore. Wisely, the band chose "Jumbo - Buen D'-a D'-a , starting off with a group chant. .

Not often does one hear a 12-piece group without bass and drums. But it happened at Galapagos (Jun. 8th), where the Pulse composers' federation performed its second installment of "The Eloquent Light: Music Inspired by Photography . Trumpeter John McNeil and guitarist Pete McCann were the guest soloists, augmenting an ensemble of strings, reeds, low brass, keyboard (Gary Versace) and vibraphone/percussion (Tom Beckham). Pulse's constituent members took to the stage one by one to conduct their own works, each with a respective photograph displayed on an overhead screen. Heedless of genre distinctions, the pieces combined the rigorous craft of 'new music' with the improvised flow of jazz and even the sonic explosiveness of rock. In order, the rundown: Darcy James Argue's "Milk , Jamie Begian's "A Simple... , Joseph C Phillips Jr's "Race , Joshua Shneider's "Sending and Receiving , John McNeil's "Riot , Yumiko Sunami's "Wise Women and JC Sanford's "An Attempt at Serenity . These were concise but well-developed statements, full of harmonic and rhythmic tension, beautifully complemented by the visual images. McNeil and McCann contributed to the richness of the ensemble passages, but they also sailed over, under and through, even playing as a duo at times.

Pulse brought "The Eloquent Light to St. Peter's Church three days later. Watch for ongoing developments at pulsecomposers.typepad.com.

~ David R. Adler


It has been said that a performance can be judged a success if there are more people in the audience than onstage. Satoko Fujii's Orchestra NY, with its 15 members, made things harder for themselves by playing at the intimate confines of The Stone (Jun. 7th) but succeeded in both logistic and artistic terms. In the 21st century, big band writing is going through a wonderful renaissance, particularly in New York, as composers are free to draw from decades of large ensemble traditions and find players able to implement their ideas. Fujii's orchestra was almost completely drawn from the ranks of NYC band leaders, each musician bringing much more to the group than some faceless, nameless big band gun. And so Fujii's arrangements allowed these often disparate voices to separate themselves from the crowd, usually giving long solo and duo segments to the likes of Ellery Eskelin, Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein or Joe Fiedler. For just over an hour, on four tunes written by Fujii (and one by her husband and member of the trumpet section Natsuki Tamura), the feel oozed from '40s ballroom to James Bond-esque themes to marching fanfares to horror flick soundtracks to polka to Globe Unity Orchestra maelstroms. A good cup of tea requires excellent leaves as a base and here J. Granelli and Aaron Alexander provided that caffeinated rhythm. Oddly democratic for such a group, Fujii and her cast of luminaries weren't the stars, rather the resultant music was.

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