Guillermo Klein, 'Una Nave' (2005)

At the end of Playing Changes is a list: The 129 Essential Albums of the Twenty-First Century (So Far). I organized these by year, and then alphabetically by artist name. I'll be running them down here, in that order. (No one appears more than once as a leader, though there’s ample overlap in personnel.)


Guillermo Klein is an Argentine pianist and composer who spent a good portion of the late 1990s headquartered at Smalls, the unassuming basement jazz club in Greenwich Village. There he held court with a cohort of other twentysomething improvisers who came to see him as a visionary.

By the mid-2000s, Klein was living in Barcelona. As Ben Ratliff put it in a profile for The New York Times, it was a disorienting feeling for New Yorkers to sense that something special had slipped away: "We have heard dispatches from Mr. Klein — three fascinating records — but have had to live with the fact that his evolution was taking place somewhere else."

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One of those fascinating records was Una Nave, released on Sunnyside in 2005. It features musicians from Klein's circle in Buenos Aires, like drummer Daniel “Pipi” Piazzolla (yes, that line of Piazzollas) and the trumpeters Juan Cruz De Urquiza and Richard Nant. The writing on the album is uniformly strong, and often idiosyncratically so. A track called "La Ultima" includes a riveting staccato trumpet duel, scored in a way that suggests medieval hocketing, on steroids.

At the same time, Klein is a composer of songs, full stop. A year or so ago I interviewed Puerto Rican alto saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón, a Klein associate, who made this very point:

A lot of the music he writes, it’s basically songs. He has lyrics to a lot of his music, and sometimes he will write lyrics for a bunch of tunes and you will never hear the lyrics. I was thinking: Why is he not singing these songs? But then I came to understand that even without the lyrics, you could kind of hear the vocal quality, that lyrical quality to the pieces, which made them so much richer.

Zenón's observation rings true of my own experience of Klein's music. When I reviewed Klein's album Filtros for the Times in 2008, I wrote something that applies equally to Una Nave: 

In the realm of harmony Mr. Klein can be both progressive and willfully simple, often stripping down to the perfect intervals that evoke ancient or ceremonial music. His melodies tend to be convoluted but singable; he sings a few himself. The net effect is a sort of folkloric futurism, indebted to big band jazz orchestration but generally free of its standard conventions. 

This is especially clear on a tune called "Flores," which showcases Klein's untrained but appealing singing voice, along with a shrewd set of strategies for arranging his horns.

Buy Una Nave at Sunnyside, or stream it on Apple Music or Spotify.