Bassist Pablo Aslan presents his fabulous new album of music for bass and string quartet, Contrabajo, at the loamy juncture of jazz, classical, and Argentinian tango. Working with the musicians of Cuarteto Petrus, Aslan and producer/arranger Gabriel Senanes offer a pleasantly dizzying set of pieces by some of the great names in Latin jazz, some written and all arranged specifically for this recording.
The airy polyrhythms of “Confluencias” scamper like ghostly winged creatures. The somber dance of “Reflejos” combines jazzy chords and bass solos with an avant-classical and dreamily minimalist theme, building to an almost unbearable tension.
Aslan’s own sprightly “Tanguajira” recalls Astor Piazzolla himself as guest Paquito D’Rivera lays on a delicious clarinet solo and Aslan thunks out meaty bass lines. I can’t help smiling at the percussive effects, and at the dry humor when the piece dips into a 1-4-5 major mode amid the dark repetitions of the minor-key theme.
Two works by Aslan’s fellow tango specialist and frequent collaborator Roger Davidson dive into romance. Senanes’s Beethovenian arrangement makes “Te extraño Buenos Aires” a standout, while “Tango para cuerdas” becomes truly danceable – except for its bass cadenza. Interestingly, the only track without much fire is the most familiar tune, Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” (though I do appreciate Aslan’s deep glissando at the end).
Senanes displays his affinities for both modernism and Argentinian folk rhythms in two compositions of his own. Bird-like strains from the strings, a transformation of the bass into a drum kit, and a questioning lack of resolution give “Contratango” a curious, serious charm. In the invigorating and boldly multidimensional “Riendo suelto” the ensemble makes the most of Senanes’s innovative writing for strings.
To open the album, the musicians render Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “Preludio No. 1” with fluid tempi and a graceful conversational feel, a sensitive tribute to the composer’s Latin American classical guitar music. To close it, Raúl Jaurena contributes an arrangement of the Uruguayan tune “La cumparsita,” adding his bandoneón to the mix.
And thus, throughout, the album perambulates from tradition to tradition even as it builds a fresh sonic world of its own. It demonstrates that great musicians often speak to us most sincerely when they put genre aside and write and play what’s in their own distinctive hearts.
Contrabajo is available at Amazon.