Published on November 10, 2015 by

BIENESTAN release date: June 14, 2011

Two creative forces and fellow Sunnyside recording artists — gifted pianist Aaron Goldberg and the brilliant and enigmatic composer-arranger Guillermo Klein — join together for a collection of potent originals and provocative interpretations of jazz standards on Bienestan. A collaboration in the truest sense, this followup to Goldberg’s acclaimed 2010 trio outing, Home, and Klein’s stunning 2010 recording, Domador de Huellas: Music of “Cuchi” Leguizamon, has Goldberg and Klein paired on acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano, respectively, accompanied by the stellar rhythm tandem of bassist Matt Penman and Goldberg’s longtime drummer Eric Harland. Special guests Miguel Zenon on alto sax and Chris Cheek on tenor and soprano saxes augment the proceedings on five tracks.
“It’s all Guillermo’s music and arrangements, and that was the idea,” says Goldberg. “We were conceiving of it almost in a Gil Evans-Miles kind of way, where I was the featured soloist and he was thinking of me when he wrote the stuff. I didn’t contribute anything compositionally–I wanted to do something that would put me in Guillermo’s universe, so to speak.”
From radical reinventions of the well-worn jazz standard “All the Things You Are,” Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooche” and the Brazilian staple “Manha de Carnaval” (from Black Orpheus) to Klein masterpieces like the evocative “Impresion de Bienestan,” the challenging Afro-Cuban flavored “Human Feel” (a kind of Astor Piazzolla-meets-Philip Glass bit of fiery minimalism) and delicate, chamber-like “Burrito,” Bienestan presents a stimulating program that is brimming with thoughtful lyricism and stirring improvisation while being distinguished by Klein’s signature cutting-edge harmonic sophistication and rhythmic innovation. The album title, Goldberg explains is actually a misnomer that came about through happenstance.
“The way the title came about is sort of a fortuitous joke. There’s one tune on the record called ‘Impresion de Bienestar,’ which means ‘impression of well being.’ And Matt Penman, who doesn’t really speak Spanish but knows just a tiny bit, read it as ‘Impresion de Bienestan.’ The chart for the tune said ‘Bienestar,’ but it looked like it could’ve maybe been an ‘n’ instead of an ‘r’. And we thought, ‘Bienestan! Like Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan!’ So we invented this mythical country Bienestan, imagining it as a diverse utopia full of different kinds of well- being. That’s the idea of it. Bienestan is a land of journeys that ultimately serve to elicit emotion. We thought it was an apt description of the variety of different territories, textures and moods that you would find on this album.”
Bienestan includes two intimate duets between Goldberg and Klein on “Implacable” and “Airport Fugue” as well as two gorgeous ballads in “Anita” and “Yellow Roses.” “Blues for Alice” is an intricate and frisky romp through shifting time signatures, and they also offer two renditions of “Manha de Carnival” — one done as a kind of droning requiem and the other rendered as a challenging vehicle in five. Many of the tunes on this rousing collection utilize an innovative rhythmic concept that is Klein’s own. As Goldberg explains, “It’s an example of what you might call metric modulation, but Guillermo calls them ‘filters.’ It’s a device that he’s used throughout the last decade with his own bands and it plays off the relationship between three and four which you find throughout African music, South American music and, of course, jazz, including in the relationship between a triplet and a swing eighth note. This layered three vs. four relationship lies at the heart of the intersection of African and European musics all over the world, and Guillermo has his own particular take on it. The challenge was to improvise over those filters that he applied to the music. And I think we pulled it off, considering that we were basically learning it in the studio as we recorded.”

Initially, the two tossed around the idea of putting together a whole album of two-keyboard fugues. Only two of those signature pieces made it to the record (“Airport Fugue” and “Implacable”). As the project evolved, the rest of the musicians came onboard — saxophonists Zenon and Cheek having played on various Klein projects and Harland being a longstanding member of Goldberg’s trio. Bassist Penman was also a friend of Goldberg’s going back to their Berklee/Harvard days together, and Penman had shared the bandstand with Harland as members of the SF Jazz Collective. “I’m a big fan of both Miguel and Chris,” says Goldberg, “and I knew that Matt and Eric were a great combination and would understand Guillermo’s music pretty fast. And they did.”

Their collective cohesiveness, along with Klein’s penchant for orchestrational sophistication and Goldberg’s penchant for lyricism, is apparent from track to track on Bienestan.

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