While Argentinean guitarist/composer Guillermo Bazzola spends most of his time these days in Spain, where aside from leading several projects he is active as a music educator, his heart remains in Buenos Aires. That's not to say, however, that his music is confined to extrapolating on the ethnicity of his native country. Alas, recorded with his Summer Quartet is, in fact, a recording that could have been made anywhere. While South American influences are evident, they are no more so than, say, Pat Metheny. Alas is more about straight-ahead contemporary swing, and Bazzola is as authentic as any.
Most musicians are the sum of their parts, and Bazzola is no exception. Having attended clinics and seminars with Jim Hall and Joe Diorio, the lineage is clear; Bazzola's sound is clean, warm and round. But having also studied with John Abercrombie, his style is somewhat more open; while he lacks the sharp edges that sometimes inhabit Abercrombie's work, he performs in the same area of space. And harmonically there is some reference to vibraphonist Gary Burton. While Burton has never been a prolific writer, his harmonic approach is clear and distinctive, and the changes found on pieces like the tender ballad, "Endless Night" and the poignant waltz of the title track clearly reference some of Burton's work in the '70s with Mick Goodrick and Pat Metheny.
The quartet eschews virtuoso displays in favour of creating music that sings. Bazzola and saxophonist Rodrigo Dominguez are both lyrical soloists who subscribe to the philosophy of construction in solos; while there is no shortage of space for them to develop, there is no excess either; both play with a sense of economy. Bassist Jeronimo Carmona anchors, and percussionist Sergio Verdinelli combines a light touch with a deft sense of swing on "Gran Natalio," with an elastic approach that brings to mind Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen.
And while the material leans towards the contemporary mainstream, there are hints that the quartet is capable of stretching outwards. "Oye Conejo" is based around a simple motif that sets things up for a free exchange; "En Silencio" begins freely with multiphonics on the sax, bowed bass and swelled harmonics on guitar before Bazzola enters with a more straightforward theme as the piece shifts into waltz territory that is, again, reminiscent of Abercrombie, who has a similar penchant for 3/4 time.
Alas is deceptive; on first pass it comes across as an album of memorable themes and a light approach; on subsequent listens its more inherent weight becomes clear. While this is an album that is easy on the ears, it is no less substantive. Bazzola and his quartet have managed to create an album that proves that accessible jazz doesn't mean compromise; hidden within the confines of a relatively straightforward effort is a deeper song that awaits the attentive listener.
Gratitude; Gran Natalio; Coral; Surfin' With Trane; Alas; Oye Conejo; Libra; Endless Night; En Silencio; A Christmas Tune
Guillermo Bazzola (guitar), Rodrigo Dominguez (alto, tenor and soprano sax), Jeronimo Carmona (double-bass), Sergio Verdinelli (drums and percussion)