Klein Pursues the Sound of Symmetry


Guillermo Klein celebrates the 20th anniversary of his band, Los Guachos, with the release of Los Guachos V (Sunnyside), the group’s sixth album.

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Argentine pianist Guillermo Klein founded his 11-piece Los Guachos in New York in 1996. In 2016, the band members (including alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, tenor saxophonists Bill McHenry and Chris Cheek and drummer Jeff Ballard) are a bit more geographically scattered, but Los Guachos is still together and celebrating its 20th anniversary with Los Guachos V (Sunnyside), its sixth album. (If the numbers are confusing, it gets even stranger: The ensemble’s first release was Los Guachos II.)

Klein recently spoke to DownBeat to discuss his new conceptual approach to Los Guachos’ music, and to clear up that peculiar numbering system.

DownBeat: First of all, let me congratulate you on 20 years of Los Guachos. How do you sustain a project for so long?

Guillermo Klein: Mainly, we like playing together. The next thing is that we’ve got venues to play. When we started in ’96, we used to play every week; then I moved out of New York at the end of 2000, and we stopped playing. I moved to Argentina and then I moved to Spain. Since then we’ve been playing once or twice a year, even after I moved back to New York. And that means that every time we see each other, there is new musical information.

Is there a Los Guachos I?

Yeah, there is a Los Guachos I, actually. We recorded it in 1996, for Candid Records. They didn’t want to release it—said it was too “out”—so they were going to wait until we became famous. I went to London last year, and I called to see if they would finally release it—and they lost it. That was really, really awful. But there’s a copy of it, and at some point I’m going to put it on SoundCloud or Facebook or something like that.

Similarly, in between Los Guachos III and Los Guachos V, there are actually three Los Guachos albums. Why did you wait so long to title an album Los Guachos V?

Well, I called it Guachos V because, more than the number “5” itself, I wanted to stress the “V.” Because so many times I’ve seen [our band name misspelled as] “Gauchos” instead of “Guachos.” I wanted to use [the title] Gvachos, with the letter V instead of the U. And my wife told me it looked Swedish or something. She said, “Just call it Guachos V! It looks good, like victory.”

So let’s talk about the music. The two suites that make up most of the album use symmetry as a foundation—mirroring, harmonic inversions, retrograde melodies. How did that come about?

The main idea was to get together with the guys and play something we didn’t play before. I just wanted to work with an idea, and the symmetries concept was a harmonic idea that I had been playing around with a lot.

The first suite, basically, is all based on “Donna Lee.” “Indiana” is basically “Back Home Again In Indiana,” though the melody is so processed that you can’t really find it. That was the only way I found to work with the symmetries. The last tune of that suite is kind of a 12-tone thing, but it’s got “Donna Lee” in the back at all times. If you look for it at the end, you will find it.

That was a painful process, because I’m always trying to find tunes. Even if you hear all the abstract or complex pieces, there is always a tune in there. But I just kind of had to have faith in the concept and the bigger vision that I have.

The trademark of your music is its very elastic approach to time and tempo, and I’m curious to know how that fits into your symmetry concept.

The thing that kept it together for the band was keeping the rhythmic concepts we’re used to working with. The clave that I always use is there; the stretching and contraction of time is there. And that helped us to jell into something cohesive.

Will you be touring in the near future?

Believe it or not, we’re looking for a date in 2018 with the whole band. To get them all together, we have to fly four people overseas. It’s not like a neighborhood band anymore, you know? When we get together I want to do it right. So I think 2018 will be the earliest full-band gig.

Do you regard yourself as a Latin jazz musician?

I never think in those terms. I wouldn’t get mad or happy if you put me in that category. Of course, the fact that I’m from Argentina, and I play with jazz musicians, and what I do is not string music—maybe you come to Latin jazz just by crossing out the other possibilities!

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