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Guillermo Klein: Los Guachos V

Budd Kopman By

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If a creator has a vision, being persistent in working to bring it to life is a requirement. This is true in life, for visions big and small, and not just for artists.

Pianist, composer and band leader Guillermo Klein most definitely fits that bill. His group, Los Guachos (literally, The Bastards) has been in existence for around twenty years. Beginning in 1990 in Boston at the Berklee College of Music, where he met some of the musicians, and continuing in New York City in 1993, where Klein formed a big band that played regularly at Smalls, and later at The Jazz Standard. A subset of that group became Los Guachos (not gauchos), which recorded an album on Candid that was never released. Subsequently, Klein moved to Sunnyside and released Los Guachos II (1999), Los Guachos III (2002), Live In Barcelona (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2005), Filtros (2008) and Carrera.

Thus, the album at hand, Los Guachos V is the fifth for Sunnyside. That the personnel for the group has remained stable all these years is a tribute to Klein and his music—he writes for them and they want to play for him, much like the relationship between Maria Schneider and her orchestra's players. Quite a few of the band members' names will be recognized: guitarist Ben Monder, saxophonists Bill McHenry, Chris Cheek and Miguel Zenon and drummer Jeff Ballard.

Klein has always mixed the elements of jazz, his native Argentinian folk music, rock and modern Classical music (e.g. 12-tone rows, Messiaen, Stravinsky) to produce a recognizable style. He is always searching for new means of expression while maintaining a balance between the body and the mind. The tension between composition/arrangement for the group and improvisational freedom for the individual can be readily heard and felt, but it obviously works for both the players and listeners.

With Los Guachos V, Klein takes his adventurous musical mind to the next level. The music highlights a new technique he calls "symmetries" in which melody and harmony can be inverted, retrograded and mirrored. Yes, J.S. Bach did the kind of thing, but Klein takes it much further. The result is music that is unsettling in that it has intimations of familiarity while sounding strange and foreign; it continually feels off balance, but never falls over; the parts seem to struggle against each other, yet ultimately fit together. Drummer Jorge Rossy mentions in the notes how large movements and shapes are initially perceived, but that the attentive ear will be drawn down to myriad of details that together make up the sound.

The songs, arranged in two suites, "Suite Indiana" and "Suite Jazmin," plus two others, are all Klein originals, except for "Donna Lee" (Miles Davis) and "Ashes" (Andrew Hill). Since one must assume that everything Klein does is purposeful, the fact that "Suite Indiana" contains a song named "Back Home Again," and that "Donna Lee" is based on the changes of the Ballard MacDonald and James F. Hanley tune of that name, but which is not attributed, must mean something, but what it is, is hard to say.

There are two "Symmetries" (I and II), two "Si No Sabes" (4/4 and 9/8) and two "mirrors"—"Burrito Hill" (from Carrera) and "Human Feel" (from Bienestan (Sunnyside, 2011)). "Si No Sabes 9/8" and Jazmin" are the most immediately "accessible" tracks in that the former maintains a rhythmic pattern, while the latter's tune has regular phrasing and harmony while being very pretty.

Otherwise, Klein's music challenges by its depth, complexity and continual surprise within a framework that allows for anticipation of the (somewhat) expected. The music is by no means arcane; it swings a lot, but with many haunting and unresolved sounding sections. What comes through very clearly is how much the musicians enjoy participating in Los Guachos, and being active participants in Klein's continual development.

Los Guachos V is wonderful and fascinating music with both teeth and heart which will reveal many layers over repeated listenings.

Track Listing: Suite Indiana - Back Home Again; Donna Lee; Patria Espiral; Suite Jazmin - Symmetry I; Si No Sabes 4/4; Si No Sabes 9/8; Burrito Hill Mirror; Human Feel Mirror; Jazmin; Symmetry II; Ashes; Quemando Velas.

Personnel: Ben Monder: guitar; Bill McHenry: tenor saxophone; Chris Cheek: soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones; Diego Urcola: trumpet, trombone; Fernando Huergo: electric bass; Guillermo Klein: piano; Jeff Ballard: drums; Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone; Richard Nant: percussion, trumpet; Sandro Tomasi: trombone; Taylor Haskins: trumpet, flugelhorn.

Title: Los Guachos V | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records


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