The craft of composition has been a part of Guillermo Klein's life since his childhood in Argentina. Klein's father presented him with a piano when he turned 11 years old and, inspired by the legendary Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla, he promptly began his experimentation with writing songs.
Klein left Argentina to attend Berklee College of Music after hearing a moving speech by the former dean Gary Burton about his relationship working with Piazzolla. Klein intended to study classical music on his arrival but found himself among peers that were passionate about jazz. The music of Wayne Shorter provided the bridge from classical to jazz studies. Being a fan of unique harmonic expression, Klein was easily drawn to the work of this master composer who is deemed to be one of the most intriguing harmonic architects in jazz. Klein was also able to develop a talented network of musical friends, many of which came to Berklee from South America. This group of colleagues provided the framework for what would eventually become Klein's main musical voice, the Big Van large ensemble that would later become Los Guachos. After graduating from Berklee, Klein moved to New York City like many of his fellow graduates. He settled into Greenwich Village and quickly became associated with a jazz club called Smalls where he established a weekly engagement with his 17-piece Big Van band that incorporated musicians living in New York as well as commuters from Boston. Smalls was critical in fostering a community of young artists that would ultimately be some of the most influential voices of modern jazz.
Klein later scaled the band down to a more streamlined 11 piece unit that began to be known as Los Guachos (roughly translated, the bastards). The band continued to develop with the help of residences at Smalls and, later, the Jazz Standard. After recording an album that was ultimately shelved, Klein was able to find a home with Sunnyside Records where he as been ever since. The label soon released two CDs by Los Guachos: Los Guachos II (1999) and Los Guachos III (2002). Klein moved back to Argentina in the early fall of 2000 with his wife. While in Argentina, Klein made a recording alongside local musicians, Una Nave (Sunnyside, 2005). Since then he has released a series of critically-acclaimed CDs with Los Guachos including: Live in Barcelona (Sunnyside, 2005), Filtros (Sunnyside, 2008) and his latest, Carrera (Sunnyside, 2012). Other important recordings include his work as a composer and/or arranger on " Solar Return Suite (with the MIT Wind Ensemble), Domador de Huellas (Sunnyside, 2010), Bienestan (Sunnyside 2011) with Aaron Goldberg and Miguel Zenon's Grammy-nominated, Alma Aldentro.
In addition to teaching composition in Buenos Aires, Klein has given master classes and seminars throughout Europe, including the Jazz Institut Berlin, Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Jazz Schule Basel, and Le Mirail in Toulouse.
Klein’s new recording with Los Guachos, Carrera, proves significant for a number of reasons. This recording is a collection of compositions generated prior to and after Klein’s return to his birthplace Buenos Aires from Barcelona, a move that has had a tremendous impact on the composer and his family. The songs on the recording contain strong messages that Klein feels need to be heard. And most importantly, the recording demonstrates the tremendous bond that continues to grow amongst the members of Los Guachos.
The story of Los Guachos began at Berklee College of Music in Boston where Klein studied composition and jazz during the early 1990s. At Berklee, Klein met a number of sympathetic musicians with whom he created a large ensemble, which continued to assemble after his move to New York City. Los Guachos was a culmination of Berklee friends and New York associates that came together to play Klein’s music for residencies at Small’s Jazz Club and the Jazz Standard.
Los Guachos have been performing together for nearly twenty years. Though a large group, the ensemble has developed a camaraderie akin to family; more hermanos than bandmates.
“There’s a lot of care from the band on every note and I like the sound very much,” mentioned Klein. “You know… We’ve been playing for almost twenty years now and I can feel that.”
One of the first projects that Klein undertook upon his return to Argentina was arranging the music of Cuchi Leguizamón for the Buenos Aires Jazz Festival (Domador de Huellas, Sunnyside (2010)). Klein had always looked to Argentina’s musical past for inspiration and has continued on Carrera , arranging pieces by illustrious composer Alberto Ginastera and the tango tandem of composer Juan Carlos Cobián and lyricist Enrique Cadicamo. The Lequizamón project also reinforced the importance of strong lyrical content and vocals in Klein’s work. He made a concerted effort to make these more prominent on Carrera.
The album leads with “Burrito Hill,” a dedication to the master arranger Gil Evans that features the tremendous efforts of the rhythm section - drummer Jeff Ballard, bassist Fernando Huergo and percussionist Richard Nant - on intricately written, interweaving claves. The melancholy “Globo” is a lovely, floating lament about lost illusions featuring vocals by Klein and saxophonist Miguel Zenón. Nant‘s “Niños” is a dancing composition inspired by a children’s song.
“Mariana”, written for a friend of Klein’s, overcomes many obstacles, audibly represented by a tricky 4 over 5 time signature that saxophonist soloist Chris Cheek handles with aplomb. The beloved tango “Los Mareados” written by Juan Carlos Cobián and Enrique Cadicamo , says Klein, “has the most powerful lyrics and I wrote this canon for piano and guitar in the middle section trying to emphasize that time is an illusion.” The song echoes the voice of a lover, intoxicated by more than just feelings. “ArteSano” is an exercise over rhythm changes, with a solo showcasing a true musical craftsman, saxophonist Bill McHenry.
The lyrics to “Moreira” are a call for responsibility in actions with a stern arrangement that opens up with a marvelous solo by Zenón. “The Habit of Memory” is a beautiful tune written by trumpeter Taylor Haskins with stunning brass and percussion swells. The title track is a feature for guitarist Ben Monder and, while the tune doesn’t speed off, it quietly ruminates on the idea of achievement only being important if it gratifies spiritually, a delicate protest against greed.
While many of the compositions are somber, Klein provides an energetic arrangement of Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera’s “Piano sonata op 22.” Klein expounds: “The Biblioteca Nacional Argentina asked Richard Nant to work on Ginastera’s music and Richard knew that I liked the Sonata so he extended the request for me to arrange it. I always liked this Sonata and I think I got much of the Guachos sound from this piece.”
“I felt really happy to finally play those tunes with (Los Guachos) and hear how they interpreted them in their solos. I think we will play them for a long time.”
The music of Klein and Los Guachos is striking because it is meticulous, yet it feels extremely natural and meaningful. The ensemble’s ability to pull off such a feat, considering the complicated rhythmic puzzles, harmonic adventures and Spanish lyrics, is astounding and is only achievable when a group convenes with purpose and love. Carrera is a poignant testament to Klein and Los Guachos’s increasingly important message.