Guillermo Klein — For the first time in three years, the Argentinian composer/bandleader and his little big band, Los Guachos, resurfaced in New York (specifically, the Jazz Gallery). This organization remains a who’s-who of area players. The horns were Chris Cheek, Miguel Zenon, Bill McHenry, Diego Urcola, Taylor Haskins and Sandro Tomasi. The rhythm component consisted of Ben Monder on guitar, Fernando Huergo on electric bass, Jeff Ballad on drums and Richard Nant on percussion (and trumpet). Klein played piano and conducted; Luciana Souza contributed vocals on a few numbers. Quite in contrast to Tolliver, Klein weaves an ensemble fabric through and through and doesn’t go in for long, showstopping solos — although McHenry, Monder and Haskins did get in some nice licks. Klein’s deeply ambiguous harmonies and intricate rhythmic structures can seem impenetrable at times, but the net effect is warm and inviting, even spellbinding (as was the case with an upbeat composition by Jeff Ballard).
Miguel Zenon — The Jazz Gallery gave this firebreathing young altoist the honor of a month of Thursdays, and the results were tremendous. Zenon seized the opportunity to showcase two different quartets, the second of which was his new Rhythm Collective, featuring Hans Glawischnig on electric bass, Henry Cole on drums, and Pernell Saturnino on percussion. In the last 18 months or so Zenon’s compositional voice has taken on a daring, enormously sophisticated quality. This chordless ensemble was especially strong: drums and percussion cooked up a relentless rhythmic boil while Glawischnig functioned as a one-man orchestra, using an octave pedal to beef up his presence at just the right moments. Zenon displayed a growing mastery of his horn and navigated his own complex tunes with aplomb. But this was no mere technical display; there was inner meaning in every transition, every blindingly fast unison line, and Zenon always managed to make it clear.
Zenon’s quartet with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Glawischnig (on acoustic this time) and drummer Antonio Sanchez made a very different noise, one marked by a broader harmonic palette but just as much rhythmic badassery. Once again, Zenon’s command of extended, through-composed forms and sweeping narrative gestures — not to mention his relentlessly passionate alto playing — kept the audience enthralled from start to finish. Much of this music will be heard on Zenon’s Marsalis Music debut, Ceremonial, due out in early 2004. When you see it, grab it.
Art Davis/Billy Bang, Art Davis/Odean Pope — A very special Sunday and Monday night at the Jazz Gallery and Cornelia Street Café, respectively. Dr. Davis is a veteran bassist who has graced recordings and bandstands led by Coltrane, Hubbard and many more (McCoy Tyner’s 1962 trio classic Inception is an important resume item). In recent years Davis has eschewed the limelight and devoted himself to jazz education. This was his first-ever duo performance with violinist Billy Bang, and it showed in a number of shaky transitions and miscues. But there was gravitas in Davis’s unamplified sound, a poignancy in his touch, and often a glimmer of transcendence in his rapport with the violin. At one point Bang unplugged his axe and attempted to go acoustic as well, but after one tune he reconsidered. Highlights included Bang’s “Moments for the KIAMIA” (from Vietnam: The Aftermath), Davis’s calypso-inflected “Everybody’s Doing It,” and a slow, in-tempo reading of Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament.”
The following night at Cornelia Street, Davis appeared in a duo setting with tenor saxophonist Odean Pope. The first set opened with Pope’s angular blues “Knot It Off” (from a 1996 Enja date, aptly titled Ninety-Six). “Everybody’s Doing It” resurfaced from the night before, sounding tighter but a bit less playful. The duo went out swinging with “Suite for Two,” based loosely on rhythm changes. Pope brandished a gritty tone and made extensive use of his highly developed circular breathing. If you prefer the tenor sax to the violin (and let’s face it, most of us do), this was the gig to see, although both nights had their rewards.