Last Monday night, the Pablo Aslan Quintet performed in Brooks-Rogers Auditorium as part of the Ernest Brown World Music Series. The group, headed by Argentinian-born artist Pablo Aslan, delighted a diverse audience ranging from current students to faculty members to members of the local townsfolk with a lively tango-infused jazz. Aslan has performed and recorded with a number of prominent artists including Yo-Yo Ma, Shakira and the Philadelphia Orchestra, among many others. Aslan leads his quintet on the bass, accompanied by pianist Emilio Solla, drummer Eric Doob, Diego Urcola on trumpet and Julien Labro on the bandoneon, an accordion-type instrument.
Many of the selections performed were taken from the quintet’s most recent album, Piazzolla in Brooklyn, which is based on Take Me Dancing, a commercially failed album from a half-century ago by the artist Astor Piazzolla. A talented avant-gardist, Piazzolla attempted to create the genre of jazz-tango in his album, and Aslan’s mission when composing his newest album was to revisit the jazz-tango, smooth out its inconsistencies and revive it in a modern context. “I thought that … being a sort of jazz-tango musician myself, I could take this dark sheep of an album and revive it,” said Aslan.
Aslan started the performance with a loose and informal greeting to the audience that was relaxed and pithy, in a true embodiment of the jazz style before the playing even began while Urcola darted off the stage to retrieve a forgotten item. After the group was established on the stage, the performance quickly began with an exuberant “Uno! Dos! Tres!” from Aslan.
The first piece performed was off Piazzolla in Brooklyn. Aptly entitled after the Spanish word for triumphant, “Triunfal” began with vibrant trumpet tones bursting over the sound of the other instruments. As is expected in a jazz performance, the overall sound of the group was anything but sharp, stiff and polished. Instead, the playing was passionately delivered and highly improvisational. The first song began at a quick pace and then slowed down in order to allow the pure, saturated notes of the bandoneon to shine through, contributing to the Latin flair of the music’s jazz-tango atmosphere.
While Aslan was clearly the front man of the group, each player received ample opportunity to showcase their prowess. Despite the high volume and intensity of the group’s sound, no one player was overwhelmed by the others for a significant amount of time. Urcola in particular displayed his masterful trumpeting skills not only in the louder, more energetic songs but also in slower, more subdued tunes such as “Sin Palabras,” in which he muted his trumpet to evoke an intimate yet intense mood.
Labro also had a fantastic solo on the accordina, which is a handheld instrument that produces an even sweeter tone than the bandoneon. Labro entranced the crowd with a masterfully improvisational solo, his fingers moving seemingly at the speed of light to play frankly ridiculous sequences of notes without a single misstep.
The other members of the group rested between songs, but even whenever a player took an on-stage reprieve, they remained as involved in the music of the other players as much as the audience did.
The Pablo Aslan Quintet’s presence on the Brooks-Rogers stage left the audience enchanted, and most certainly brought a new life to the late Piazzolla’s original aspirations. It was certainly a worthwhile and captivating event.