Guillermo Klein y Los Gauchos - 13 June 2007 @ Village Vanguard
Speaking of jazz in the 90's, Guillermo Klein's four-year run of Sunday nights at Smalls during the mid-1990's was spoken of with hushed reverence even up in Montreal, which is where I spent most of that decade. Guillermo left New York at the same time I left Montreal -- he's now based in Barcelona. A bit ironic that he finally scored a coveted Vanguard gig just last summer -- almost six years after he left the city. There was such buzz about that 2006 run -- my own review is here -- that they came back this year for a rare two-week run (which continues until this Sunday, June 17), followed by two days of recording at Avatar.
The gig last night was absolutely phenomenal. Miguel Zenon appears to have memorized the lead alto book, since he spent most of the night with his eyes either closed or intently focused anywhere except the page. The band is breathing together and phrasing together beautifully, and they have developed a casual authority that perfectly matches the leader's personal style. Even his (occasional) singing has become more confident and persuasive, without abandoning his endearingly deadpan delivery. The band was tight, but not in the constipated way many college big bands are tight -- Los Gauchos have become thoroughly relaxed and fluid in even the most mind-bending time-shifting passages. The soloists all brought their individual personalities to bear, lifting the music without veering away from the narrative. (I can't resist singling out Bill McHenry again -- his playing in this band is mindfuckingly good.) Everything sounds warmer, richer, and more heartfelt than last year. I can only imagine how killing this shit will be by the time they hit the studio. While I still have some lingering reservations about how some of the tunes are structured, the band played so gracefully that those doubts were rarely allowed to surface.
This time, it also struck me that Guillermo's music suggests some very compelling solutions to the problems we all face as jazz musicians in the 00's. Ethan Iverson rightly holds Guillermo up as a forward-looking exponent of the frustratingly rare and occasionally maligned virtue of "good melody played clearly." But Klein also shows one way -- not the way (which I'm not even sure exists) but his way -- to blend rhythmic complexity with elegant propulsion, individual expression with ensemble cohesion, harmonic sophistication with clarity and concision, folkloric grooves with a modernist sensibility. There are a lot of jazz musicians, arch-traditionalists and uncompromising avant-gardists alike, who might want to step back for a minute and consider the powerful alchemy Guillermo is practicing here.
Pics -- just a handful taken on the down-low (the Vanguard does not smile on bloggers with cameras) -- below the fold...
UPDATE: Dave Douglas weighs in over at the Greenleaf blog.