|L-R Guillermo Klein, Chris Cheek, Mark Turner, Aaron Goldberg|
Wigmore Hall, Jan 2014. Photo credit: Roger Thomas
(Wigmore Hall, 5th January 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
What's happening to the Wigmore Hall's jazz programming is one of the quieter revolutions. Take last night's event there, presenting three of New York's finest tackling the work of Argentinian composer-pianist-singer Guillermo Klein. Put it together with its recent predecessor, the three-way first time collaboration of Wolfgang Muthspiel, Joshua Redman and Gwilym Simcock, (reviewed here) and what you get is an impressive repeat pattern: these are new, experimental, risk-taking, artist-driven collaborations which any major jazz festival in Europe would be pleased to have programmed.
Klein, the main man last night, was not the main draw. The presence of Mark Turner and Chris Cheek had drawn a healthy stack (is that the right collective noun?) of saxophonists in the audience. What they witnessed was the versatility, the unflappability and sheer professionalism of both wind players when faced with dense and tricky new material. The picture by Roger Thomas doesn't lie: it's not just the two pianists on their interlocked Steinways, but also these two top-flight saxophonists who have their eyes fastened intently on the sheet music.
Guillermo Klein was new to me, and the two strongest impressions I came away with were these: first that he goes to extraordinary lengths to shun the obvious, indeed to flaunt the un-obvious. The part-writing for the saxophonists imposes, holds and stretches out distinctly sour intervals like minor sixths and minor ninths (I think). When presenting a tune like All the Things You Are, his way was to shift the melody into a succession of chord tones, like a number sequence, a kind of anti-melody.
Having said that, he doesn't always shun melody, or emotion either. He has a romantically-tinged vocal style, in which he sang a dark ballad Riqueza Abandonada, and after which he thanked the audience for the quality of their listening : “We can feel it," he said, and appeared genuinely moved.
The second impression was that as an Argentinian composer/ improviser/ singer of European heritage, he finds his own way of dealing with incongruous musical cross-currents and contradictory influences. And how does he do it? He wears them all proudly on his sleeve. He has clearly fallen under the broad influence of the minimalists, Adams/Glass/Reich/Terry Riley. He is also Berklee-jazz-educated, but has a far more abstract sense of what music is about. He also knows his Carlos Gardel Volver, and the Argentinian tango and folklore traditions too. These are improbable juxtapositions, but Klein inhabits all these very different worlds.
The most substantial offering was a five part suite Symmetries. "there's mirror stuff going on," he explained. (Perhaps creating esoteric abstract patterns is another way to to bring the opposites together). This was brand new material, mostly dense. The most appealing was the fourth tune with its consoling, almost anthemic melody, one of the most approachable moments of the evening.
Other highlights were a fleet-fingered and energetic piano solo by Aaron Goldberg towards the end of Cheek's Nap in the second set, which was a rare moment in which the intensity was allowed properly to build, jazz-style.
This programme was a far from easy listen, but it did give a London audience a window onto the work of a determinedly original composer, and presented his work in exactly the right context.
2. All The Things You Are
3. Ahi viene el tren
4. Burrito Hill
7. Fugue X
1. El Santo
3. Cheek's Nap
4. Riqueza abandonada
5. La cancion que falta
6. (Encore) Burrito