Against the odds, Guillermo Klein has held together Los Guachos, his multinational 11-piece big band, for almost a quarter of a century. In those years, this Argentine-born pianist and composer has moved across continents four times, and most of Los Guachos’ members have ascended to prestigious careers of their own.
But the ensemble has remained intact, allowing Mr. Klein to compile a songbook unlike any other in contemporary music: a travelogue as much as a repertoire, influenced by old and new tango, American jazz, modernism and indie rock.
In an age seemingly built to overwhelm, the concepts of directness and clear intention are being lost. Exhausting maximalist concepts have become the norm in many of the arts. It can be refreshing to hear music that has purpose and clarity. That is what Guillermo Klein and Los Guachos hope to provide on their new, suite-like recording, Cristal.
Klein’s brilliant work has long focused on the implementation of his experiments with rhythm on popular song forms. He has regularly utilized elements of pop, rock and folkloric music for the emotive elements in his music. It is difficult to make music that is so technically challenging but with clear intention. It also takes an astounding group of musicians with an instinctive connection to be able to play it.
Nearing 25 years as an ensemble, Los Guachos is Klein’s favored vehicle for presenting his unique compositional and arranging style. The group’s roster remains unchanged and represents an astounding aggregation of the very best musicians in jazz, including saxophonists Miguel Zenon, Bill McHenry and Chris Cheek, trumpeters Diego Urcola and Taylor Haskins, trombonist Sandro Tomasi, guitarist Ben Monder, electric bassist Fernando Huergo, drummer Jeff Ballard, percussionist/trumpeter Richard Nant and Klein, himself, on piano and vocals.
Regular residencies at The Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard and Smalls have thankfully made it possible to assemble Los Guachos over the years; an amazing fact as each member is highly in demand individually as performer and/or educator. Indeed, Klein found himself in demand as an instructor over the past decade, most notably at Jazzcampus Basel, where he teaches and composes/arranges for a number of ensembles and events, alongside fellow Guacho, Ballard.
It was an impending Los Guachos residency at Jazzcampus Basel in late May and early June of 2018 that led to the recording of Cristal. After a week at the band’s New York home, The Village Vanguard, and a tour of Germany and Switzerland, Los Guachos were ready to record at the fantastic recording facility on campus.
Klein’s musical intent for Cristal was to provide compositions that had clear melodic statements while implying forward motion using scattered melodic cells. The pieces should also feel good to play, something that Los Guachos can do with its ability to make Klein’s rhythmic puzzles really groove. Along with his own tunes, Klein referred to a number of pieces that were heard regularly around his home as he grew up, namely the strident melodies of tango composers Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera. The recording has an over-arching design, akin to a suite.
The recording begins with the reinvention of a reinvention of Gardel and Le Pera’s “Melodía De Arraba,” which Klein originally orchestrated for Joshua Redman and the Brooklyn Rider String Quartet. Klein had to rearrange the piece dramatically in order to create a groove without drums for Redman and the Brooklyn Rider String Quartet, and yet again to allow for the fantastically melodic reading by Los Guachos drummer Ballard. “Burrito Volver” utilizes a unique clavé that Klein developed for the piece “Burrito Hill,” originally recorded on Carrera, on a new restrained rumination on Gardel and Le Pera’s “Volver.”
Klein’s insistent “Nos Mirarán Pasar” is based on Gardel and Le Pera’s “El Día Que Me Quieras” and is also a feisty, rhythmically dense exposition featuring Zenon’s vibrant alto. Originally scored for the HR Big Band, Klein scales down his folkloric music inspired “A Orillas Del Rin” into a dramatic dirge-like piece led by Nant’s bombo drum brightened by horn section crescendos. Klein’s rhythmic pattern returns on “Burrito Cristal,” which utilizes musical cells or territories, which are meant to imply an emotional feeling, thus there is a fragile, stirring sensation pervading throughout. Klein’s driving arrangement of Gardel and Le Pera’s “Volver” highlights the dreamlike nostalgia intended in the piece’s melody while simultaneously being a rigorously difficult ensemble exercise.
Klein’s hazy “Quien Te Ve” is essentially a slow milonga with lushly orchestrated horns, creating a seductive soundscape. Klein’s offbeat “Upstate” features his melancholy voice being pulled by Los Guachos’ surging horns. The program concludes with Klein’s dancing “Flores,” a revisiting of the piece originally recorded on 2005’s Una Nave, with skittering drums, surging horns and an uplifting swell that yearns to push ahead and clear.
Guillermo Klein reconvenes Los Guachos on Cristal in order to reestablish their purpose and drive. The music the group makes is emotive and impactful, a true convergence of technical brilliance and artistic interpretation. ‘
1. Melodia De Arrabal (5:32)
2. Burrito Volver (3Am) (4:44)
3. Nos Miraran Pasar (4:08)
4. A Orillas Del Rin (6:36)
5. Burrito Cristal (6:11)
6. Volver (8:55)
7. Quien Te Ve (6:29)
8. Upstate (4:25)
9. Flores (6:06)
Miguel Zenon – alto sax
Bill McHenry – tenor sax
Chris Cheek – soprano, tenor, baritone sax
Diego Urcola – trumpet, flugelhorn
Taylor Haskins – trumpet, flugelhorn
Sandro Tomasi – trombone
Ben Monder – guitar
Guillermo Klein – piano, vocals
Fernando Huergo – electric bass
Jeff Ballard – drums
Richard Nant – percussion, trumpet