Pablo Aslan: Contrabajo

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Title and instrumentation might reasonably lead you to expect a classical joint rather than a jazz programme, and to a degree that’s justified. Aslan opens with a lovely arrangement by his friend and former tutor Gabriel Senanes of Villa-Lobos’s Preludio No 1, which nicely establishes the sound palette of the set: bass as lead voice and rhythmic driver, string quartet ranging between its more traditional role and that of a bandoneon.

Senanes contributes five other charts, best of which are new settings of Roger Davidson’s Te Extraño Buenos Aires and Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday. Alexis Cuadrado’s Confluencias and Reflejos offer some more obviously jazz-based material, and Paquito Rivera turns in a glorious clarinet solo on Aslan’s own Tanguajira.

If you were digging for a term to characterise the programme as a whole, pan-American might be acceptable. It evokes a brief Golden Age between the big-stick era of the Monroe Doctrine and the CIA-policed neo-colonialism of later years. In other words, it’s a thoroughly nostalgic, but in no way elegiac set, coherently thought through – originally for a concert at the La Jolla Festival with the Pac-Man and the Escher String Quartet – and executed with a freshness and immediacy that almost suggests a live recording. In fact, bass and guest parts were taped in Roselle, NJ in June 2018 and the quartet in Buenos Aires in October 2017 and February 2018. Senanes also produced and it’s testament to his musicality that the joins never show.

As to Aslan himself, I guess his inspiration comes at least partly from orchestral players. There are some stylistic crossovers with the work of Bert Turetzky and Gary Karr, both of whom may be known to jazz audiences, but he clearly understands the contributions of Jimmy Blanton, Oscar Pettiford and Charles Mingus as well.

It’s probably quite a specialised set for the majority of jazz fans, but there’s nothing here but pure musical enjoyment and one of the freshest instrumental combinations you’ll hear in a long while.

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Discography
Preludio No 1; Confluencias; Reflejos; Tanguajira; Te extraño Buenos Aires; Come Sunday; Tango para cuerdas; Contratango; Riendo suelto; La cumparsita (51.52)
Aslan (b); Quarteto Petrus: Pablo Seravi, Hernán Briático (vn); Adrián Felizia (vla); Gloria Pankaeva (clo); with Paquito D’Rivera (cl on 4); Raul Jaurena (bandoneon on 10). Buenos Aires, October 2017, February 2018; Roselle, NJ, January – June 2018.
Soundbrush 1040