That Guillermo Klein is not regularly placed among the elite of jazz composers is criminal. The Argentine pianist has a gift for compelling ostinato that rivals Carla Bley’s, and he conjures melodies and harmonies of such beauty that, when he brings in his trademark rhythmic hiccups, they entice rather than disrupt—drawing the audience in like the details of a Renaissance painting. Never has this been more true than on Swiss Jazz Orchestra & Guillermo Klein, in which the auteur has 18 instrumentalists to do his bidding.
In the interest of accuracy, it’s the SJO, not Klein, that gets top billing on the album. Still, all 13 of its compositions are the pianist’s—mostly new, with a few catalog overhauls—as are the arrangements. What’s more, the players, whether in the ensemble or as soloists, are keenly sensitive to the personality that his compositions exude. It’s not Klein who plays the dissonant, herky-jerky piano intro on “Paredón” (that would be Philip Henzi), but it’s his sensibility in every particular, and that also goes for Reto Suhner’s inquiring soprano solo. Likewise, Samuel Leipold’s guitar improvisation on “Riqueza Abandonada” is attentive both to the material and the vibe. Even “Manuel,” a somber piece from the 2007 album Filtros recast as a playful feature for bass clarinetist Jürg Bucher, nonetheless remains as Klein-ian as ever.
Let this not imply, however, that there’s no room for distinction among the SJO’s soloists. Tubists, for one, do not get solo space so they can toe the line, and if Jan Schreiner stays mindful of the mood on the opening “Córdoba,” he also makes a smart individual statement. Ditto Matthias Tschopp’s groaning baritone saxophone entry on the madly Teutonic “Inside Zytglogge,” and Dave Blaser’s funky trumpet break on “Lepo.” Therein lies the beauty of jazz: One can surrender to the composer’s will without surrendering one’s own.