April 2008

Hans Glawischnig: Nuevo Latin

Hans Glawischnig has immersed himself in Latin-jazz, yet the rubric provides an inadequate description of his music. The Austrian bassist preserves the rhythmic elements, but abandons the static harmony that characterizes the Afro-Cuban tradition. Indeed, count Glawischnig among the musicians who continue to push Latin-jazz under the ever-widening umbrella of postbop.

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Hans Glawischnig

“I feel like I’ve been lucky to participate in the whole expansive process of opening up the idiom,” he said in January at a diner in New York’s garment district. “It may be with odd time signatures or expanded compositions or harmonically. That’s another thing that really attracted me—the room for growth in that whole [genre].”

Glawischnig’s peers include musicians from throughout Latin America: Puerto Rican saxophonists Miguel Zenón and David Sanchez, Venezuelan pianists Luis Perdomo and Edward Simon and Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto, with whom he’s worked as a bandleader and as a sideman. Though schooled in the folkloric music of their native countries, the musicians use these traditions as a point of departure rather than a blueprint.

“It’s almost like we’ve created our own idiom. It’s totally inadequate to call that Latin-jazz anymore,” Glawischnig said. “[David Sanchez] used to say that that term refers to a specific time in history when they first started experimenting. They would have a traditional rhythm [section], and then they’d have a jazz horn player come and play on top of that. So much has happened since then. The term ‘Latin-jazz’ is like a child who outgrows his shoes … like a shoe that’s way too small for the kind of music that all these guys play.”

This holds true for Panorama (Sunnyside), Glawischnig’s sophomore album. The Latin influence flavors Glawischnig’s originals, but the music is too varied to pigeonhole. Glawischnig sticks mostly to medium tempos and loose arrangements. His compositions stand out in spite of this similarity.

The rhythm section of Glawischnig, Perdomo and drummer Johnathan Blake appears on about half of the album. Zenón performs four songs with the trio, soloing with abandon on “Line Drive” and “Rabbit Race.” By contrast, this group’s reading of “The Orchids” suggests chamber music; “Barretto’s Way” draws from the Latin traditions of bolero and montuno, with contributions from drummer Antonio Sanchez and alto player David Binney.

The piano trio of Chick Corea, Glawischnig and drummer Marcus Gilmore adds another dimension. “Oceanography,” a re-harmonized “How Deep Is the Ocean?,” features a boppish head that Glawischnig and Corea play in unison. “[Glawischnig] has a freshness about his approach to composition and small-group playing that is very inspiring,” Corea wrote in an e-mail. “He has truly carved his own niche on the music scene.”

Glawischnig worked with Corea in 2006 and 2007 during the “In the Spirit of Mozart” tour, the bassist’s highest-profile gig to date. Corea’s third-stream project commemorated the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth; it featured a jazz quartet and a 30-piece chamber orchestra. Corea said Glawischnig adapted well to the demands of both ensembles. “My new concerto [The Continents] had many places which demanded [both] virtuoso [classical] bass playing and improvised bass solos, all of which Hans came through on with taste and precision,” the pianist wrote.

Zenón, who has worked with Glawischnig since 2000, features the bassist on his four albums, including the newly released Awake. While Zenón admires the bassist’s versatility and chops, he singles out his knack for Latin music. “I was very surprised at the fact that he could do it with a tremendous sense of ease—almost like he had been playing or listening to that music since he was a kid,” the alto player said by phone. “I’ve been playing with Hans for a long time, and … most of the music that I’ve written in my life, I’ve written it for Hans … to play.”

Glawischnig grew up outside Vienna (in Graz), where his father, pianist Dieter Glawischnig, led the NDR (North German Radio) Big Band for 25 years before retiring in March. Glawischnig earned a bachelor’s degree in 1992 at Berklee College of Music and a master’s in 1994 at Manhattan School of Music.

He became serious about Latin music in 1996 after joining Ray Barretto’s band, where he gained exposure while playing a fretless acoustic bass guitar. “Once I started playing with [Barretto], that threw me by default into that whole world because he’s such an icon,” Glawischnig, 37, said. “Other people started to call me for gigs. And so I started to get a little reputation.”

Glawischnig’s first album, Common Ground (Fresh Sound/New Talent), came out in 2001. Like Panorama it largely eschews bebop, although this creates a false impression. “There’s no way around Charlie Parker. You got to deal with that in some way,” Glawischnig said. “I love listening to a lot of that stuff. [But] the kind of music that I play … it’s basically just the next step in a natural evolution. [It’s] the way art is supposed to work, at least in my view.”

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