Contrabajo. Works For Bass And String Quartet, the new recording by Argentine-born bassist, composer, arranger, and producer Pablo Aslan, is a bold self-portrait of the artist with his instrument.
Recorded in Buenos Aires and New York, Contrabajo features the exceptional Cuarteto Petrus — Pablo Saraví, violín; Hernán Briático, violín; Adrián Felizia, viola; and Gloria Pankaeva, violoncello — as well as guests Cuban saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, and Uruguyan bandoneón master Raúl Jaurena. In its wide stylistic and emotional range, Contrabajo suggests a glance back at Aslan´s career but also a glimpse of the opportunities ahead.
The repertory includes new arrangements of works such as Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Prelude No1,” Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” and the tango classic “La Cumparsita;” original compositions especially written for this recording such as Gabriel Senanes’ mini-concerto “Riendo Suelto,” Roger Davidson’s “Tango Para Cuerdas,” and Alexis Cuadrado’s “Reflejos,” and a new version of Aslan’s “Tanguajira,” first recorded on Tango Jazz. Live at Jazz at Lincoln Center, featuring D’Rivera on clarinet.
“I have a very eclectic taste in music. I’ve played jazz, Latin jazz, and works from the symphonic repertoire, but also chamber music, free improvisation, Broadway shows, and Top 40 songs. Even within tango I have a broad range,” says Aslan, whose credits include notable but also diverse figures such as Yo Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Shakira, Lalo Schifrin, Osvaldo Golijov, and Pablo Ziegler. “I’ve played tango for dancers and accompanied singers, but also played Nuevo Tango and, of course, tango jazz. That’s the story I‘ve wanted to reflect in this recording, and while doing that, I’ve also wanted to show the potential of my instrument, not just to provide the foundation in a piece, but to sing a melody or drive the rhythm.”
The double bass is physically demanding (the very title of this recording, Contrabajo, is a pun in Spanish that alludes to it: con trabajo, with work), and has a comparatively small repertoire, so rather than make this recording into a showcase for well-practiced musical routines or an exercise in nostalgia, Aslan turned it into a challenge and an opportunity.
“This album is an exploration of my voice through the bass and also a collaboration with some of my dearest musical mentors and friends,” Aslan writes in his liner notes.
In fact, it’s only natural that for such personal project, he called on several significant figures in his personal and musical story, commissioning them pieces, or enlisting them as players on the recording, including composer, XXX Gabriel Senanes, an early, influential music teacher who, over the years, became a dear friend and is the artistic producer of the project; as well as pianist and composer Roger Davidson, bandoneonist, composer and arranger Raúl Jaurena, and clarinetist and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera.
As a player, Aslan set for himself several emotional and technical challenges, none as steep as the concerto-like “Riendo Suelto,” by Senanes, which sums up the searching spirit at the core of Contrabajo.
““Riendo Suelto” was one of the last things Gabriel did for the record and it’s a substantial work, a mini-concerto for double bass. I was feeling good, had been practicing a lot and I might have bragged a bit to Gabriel — and I brought it on myself,” he says as he recalls when he first saw the music. “I had been working on my Ellington, my shoulders were killing me, and I remember seeing the score, all eight pages of it, and thinking ‘And now I have to study this? But it was a wonderful challenge, and I felt we all had such a desire and ambition that the only possible response was to say ‘let’s do it’.”
Aslan has led from behind, as anchor, director, and producer in many different musical settings, including his own recordings Y En El 2000 También (1996, with the trio Avantango featuring Ethan Iverson and Thomas Chapin); Buenos Aires Tango Standards (2007), Tango Grill (2009, which was nominated to a GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY) and Piazzolla In Brooklyn (2011), works that have established him as a leading figure in tango jazz.
But he has never set himself and the double bass front and center as he has now in Contrabajo. Works For Bass And String Quartet.
“This recording was a great challenge, many hours of studying, of practicing, and it raised the bar for me,” says Aslan. “And it also opened the door to a larger repertoire, a different setting, a different sound. I wanted to tell my story with my instrument and reflect, in my choices of music and in my playing, how I have lived my musical life to now.”
Visit online at www.pabloaslan.com