Pablo Aslan: Avantango (2004)
I cannot pretend I know anything about bassist Pablo Aslan or the supposedly "vibrant New York tango jazz scene"I bought this CD because it was in the 99-cent bin of a Seattle record store and the concept sounded intriguing.
It's safe to say I scored a real bargain.
Aslan, a native of Argentina who's recorded and performed with numerous artists since moving to the U.S. in 1980, features a rather unusual sextet and collection of guest artists on his debut album as a leader. Avantango is everything a personespecially the uninitiatedcould hope for from a top-notch performer with one foot rooted firmly in jazz and the other in tango.
From start to finish this is a collection of noteworthy individual performances that blend into a rich and diverse set of group textures. A constant surprise is how well various bits that seem to have no business associating actually work very well together, sort of like a gourmet restaurant inventing a $10 desert out of avocado and chocolate (yes, this actually exists). Sax man Oscar Feldman may play a melodic solo suitable for anything from post bop to modern jazz while most of the ensemble engages in tangowith the exception of one or two who are occupying some world beat zone of their own. It works because it's all of those styles and yet none of them. It is, so to speak, it's own thing.
Listeners hoping for a wide open blowing session won't find it hereAslan is as much a composer and arranger as he is a player. The music is lively and inspired, but also disciplined and tightly arranged, with no single player snagging the limelight by stepping out of bounds into the world of overly avant garde or playing-to-the-crowd riffs.
"Derviche," which Aslan describes as "tango flavored with cardamom seeds," is a fine overall introduction to the album's concept. That spirit continues on "Dues Xango," but also finds Feldman bringing his considerable jazz chops, as he and pianist Dario Eskenazi do on the more wide-open "Escualdo." And ballads such as "El Enchanter" (described as "Middle-Eastern melodies dwelling inside a Buenos Aires imagination") manage to weave complex textures while still providing a welcome respite from the more frenzied tracks.
Ironically it's Aslan who probably gets lost the most often in the shuffle, as his low-volume acoustic bass loses out in the volume battle for the listener's ear. But he comes through strong and displays great interaction as the sole instrumentalist for vocalist Roxana Fontan on "Amadeo."
If there really is a well-developed tango-jazz scene out there, then purists within that realm can debate the nuisances of Avantango and its place among other current releases. The rest of us can treat it as a refreshingly different album well-suited to starting down the path of that particular world of connoisseurs.
Track Listing: Derviche, Deus Xango, Vuelvo Al Sur, Sabateando, Escuando, Malena, Amadeo, Beto, Verano Porteno, El Enchanter, Muchacha (Ojos de Papel), La Calle 92
Personnel: Pablo Aslan, bass; Leonardo Suarez Paz, violin; Hector Del Curto, bandoneon; Dario Eskenazi, piano; Diego Urcola, trumpet; Oscar Feldman, sax and flute; Roxana Fontan, vocals; Gustavo Casenave, piano