Jazz pianist Klein experiments in New York club

NEW YORK (Billboard) - In early June, pianist/composer Guillermo Klein made a rare U.S. appearance with his big band, Los Gauchos, at New York’s Village Vanguard for two weeks.

Such a lengthy stretch at the venerated club is usually reserved for the likes of veteran drummer Paul Motian and eclectic guitarist Bill Frisell -- not a relatively unknown maestro in his late 30s who travels to the States only once a year.

The Argentina-born, Barcelona-based Klein was a West Village mainstay from 1994 to 2000, with his weekly residency at the club Smalls serving as an incubator for Los Gauchos’ collaborative forays. In this setting Klein worked on his shape-shifting, cliche-free compositions teeming with rich harmonies, rhythmic vamps and memorable melodic hooks.

Since relocating first to Buenos Aires and then, in 2002, to Spain, Klein has quietly continued to write for the band, even though many in the group have become key personnel in other acts. For example, saxophonist Miguel Zenon is a veteran of the SFJAZZ Collective, while drummer Jeff Ballard is an integral member of Brad Mehldau’s trio.

But all the Los Gauchos principals freed their schedules for the Vanguard date, where Klein was experimenting with new material. After the stint, the music was documented in New York’s Avatar Studio for his fourth Sunnyside Records album, scheduled to be released in first-quarter 2008.

Many of Klein’s spirited pieces at the Vanguard developed idiosyncratically in a suite-like format, as solo preludes opened into chordal themes, pockets of lyricism, dissonant horn swells, tempo fluctuations, staccato rhythms, lighthearted dances and high-voltage guitar shocks.

“Guillermo is one of those rare talents who is breaking the mold and going into a completely different place,” Sunnyside founder/president Francois Zalacain says. “Plus, he has his priorities. He hates pressure, like going on extensive tours. He’s selective. He doesn’t want to burn out.” So Sunnyside is content, Zalacain says, to let Klein develop at his own pace.

Village Vanguard owner Lorraine Gordon marvels at Klein’s talent. “I’m very enamored,” she said at the end of a week-one set. “I’m thrilled to have him play here. His music makes my temperature rise. I have faith in it, and I want to hear more.”

After Klein’s first appearance at the Vanguard -- a weeklong stretch in June 2006 -- Gordon invited him back for two weeks. “I knew one week wasn’t enough for him to develop his ideas with his band,” she says. “And it wasn’t enough time for the public to fully grasp what he was doing. It takes a full two weeks to understand an artist who has a lot to say.”