An Argentinian in New York
Pedro Giraudo and the WDR Big Band

Since moving to New York City more than 20 years ago, Argentinian bassist, composer and arranger Pedro Giraudo has pursued parallel musical tracks in jazz and tango, leading several ensembles including a big band. In jazz, Giraudo has consistently applied the tools and strategies of jazz to traditional Argentine styles and folk rhythms (such as the urban tango and milonga; and the country  zambas and chacareras) but rather than fusion, which more often than not suggests compromises, the results have feel organic and greater than the sum of the parts.

Musically bilingual, Giraudo might bring up an idea in one idiom and expand on it in another, yet there is always a purpose and a brawny elegance to his mixing and matching. Moreover, his command of the grammar and syntax of each language and their combination, captured in early recordings such as Cuentos (2006) or El Viaje (2008), has continued to develop, witness his recent release An Argentinian in New York, featuring the WDR Big Band, from Cologne, Germany.

The music here sounds muscular yet nimble (the opening “Mentiras Piadosas”), richly detailed yet spacious when needed (“Eir”). And if sometimes the pieces don’t follow the expected path (“Chicharrita,” his tribute to the great tango composer, pianist, and bandleader Osvaldo Pugliese), there’s an internal logic to the music that’s hard to dismiss. Just go with it.

Giraudo’s writing has elicited facile references to models such as Ellington and Gil Evans. But the boldness of his brushstrokes and his storytelling, by which he seems to go wherever the thread takes him, expectations and conventional forms be damned, suggest forceful and quirky personalities such as Charles Mingus and Hermeto Pascoal.
As for the WDR Big Band, both the ensemble playing and the soloing — in what is a very distinctly accented jazz language — never fail to impress. Saxophonist Johan Hörlen’s ability to capture the nuances of a traditional folk singer in his phrasing on “La Ley Primera” (The First Law) is uncanny.

Well thought-out and impeccably executed, An Argentinian in New York is a superb entry in the unfolding story of pan-Latin jazz, and an early candidate for big band album of the year.

An edited version of this review was published in the Fall issue of JAZZIZ Magazine


New and Noteworthy

These might not be the most propitious times for hard-edged avant-garde explorations (a discussion for another day), but that has not deterred fearless Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman. In fact, Perelman has followed his three-disc Oneness (Leo), his collaboration with pianist Matthew Shipp, released earlier this year, with a daring change of direction and more recordings. The two new releases capture his duets with bass clarinetists: Kindred Spirits (Leo) features Perelman and Rudi Mahall, perhaps better known for his work with the Globe Unity Orchestra; and in Spiritual Prayers (Leo) the saxophonist features Chicago-based Jason Stein.

A singer’s love for words should not surprise, they are the clay of her work. But Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza has been an especially committed champion of poetry in her work  — think The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Other Songs (Sunnyside, 2000) or Neruda (Sunnyside, 2003). In her notes about her new, exquisite The Book of Longing, Souza writes that she “wanted this recording to be about words and how they make me feel.” Elegantly and sparsely accompanied by guitarist Chico Pinheiro and bassist Scott Colley, Souza sings her musicalized versions of poems by Leonard Cohen, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, as well as a couple her own. Souza shows a different side of her talents as a guest in the Yellowjackets ‘ new Raising Our Voice, (Mack Avenue) Here she sings in both, English and Portuguese, but also contributes wordless vocals (as in this updated version of “Man Facing North” ).

Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen returns to the trio format on the new The Other Side (ECM). Whatever the setting (for a while he worked with a quartet and even added a vocalist) Gustavsen has consistently favored a lyrical, church-rooted approach and folk influences. The repertoire on The Other Side includes originals, but also arrangements of three J.S. Bach chorales (here is “Schlafes Bruder“) and a piece by 19th-century Danish composer, organist, and folklorist Ludvig Mathias Lindeman.
Think of it all as soul jazz — with a Scandinavian accent.


If you are in Miami, FL, this Fall, consider checking the Historic Hampton House, a place rich in history, and its jazz program, which starts next week. It’s worth a visit.