The second concert in the Joshua Redman-curated Wigmore Hall Jazz Series presented the work of composer/bandleader Guillermo Klein. The confluence of mid-20th-century classical music with Argentinean song and contemporary jazz was as unusual as the quartet of two saxophones and two pianos – Klein and the American Aaron Goldberg faced each other on a pair of interlocked grand pianos.
With both Messiaen and Ligeti quoted as influences, dense keyboard clusters and an interlocking jigsaw of rhythms were to be expected, and there was romance in the sweet voicings of some of the saxophone lines. But overall, this was an ensemble exercise characterised by minimalist restraint, minute variations and slight shifts of mood. Add in the austere demeanors of saxophonists Chris Cheek and Miguel Zenón as they concentrated on forms and structures that would not have come naturally, and it made for a demanding two sets whose encore reflected expertise rather than passion.
Klein’s aesthetic was laid out in an opening sequence that introduced original work and ended with a piece from Messiaen. It included a re-interpretation of “All the Things You Are” that completely obscured its Jerome Kern origins, beginning with an early-summer theme whose gentle resolutions, beautifully sustained by Cheek’s soprano, suggested lazy days to come.
Rumbling pianos ushered in tensions and ambiguity, Zenón fluttered jazzily on alto, and Cheek, now on baritone sax, strode purposefully between two alternating tempos. There was a piano duet, with a nagging two-step and swapped, spidery, low-register lines, and then a poem sung hoarsely in Spanish, and accompanied by Chopinesque piano.
But mostly the ensemble was on display here, and minute variations in texture and time, rhythm and voice took precedence over individual skill. The two pianos were so enmeshed it was hard to tell who played what and several Klein-delivered lyrics also merged into the whole – though a single Zenón high-tenor harmony did stand out. Klein switched occasionally to Fender Rhodes – his tone smoky, his touch clean – and Zenón to flute. But overall it was the latticework of rhythms and awkwardly placed notes that most impressed, and the slightly strange feeling that such contemporary compositions could so strongly evoke a fin de siècle vibe that lingered.
The series continues with Joshua Redman & Christian McBride on May 11, www.wigmore-hall.co.uk