Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra – El Viaje – PGM 020579, 51:20 ****:
(Pedro Giraudo – bass, arranger, producer; Will Vinson – alto & soprano saxophone; Todd Bashore – alto saxophone; Luke Batson – tenor saxophone & clarinet; Carl Maraghi – baritone saxophone & bass clarinet; Jonathan Powell and Tatum Greenblatt – trumpet; Ryan Keberle and Mike Fahie – trombone; Jess Jurkovic – piano; Jeff Davis – drums; Tony De Vivo – cajon & guiro; Alejandro Aviles – alto sax, clarinet on tracks 1 & 6; Alex Venguer – producer, engineer)
On his fourth release, El Viaje, Argentinean-born and New York City-based bassist and composer Pedro Giraudo has assembled a nine-track program of personal tone poems dedicated to and inspired by his wife and new daughter. The material has a sophisticated, big band jazz feel that echoes influences such as Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus.
Over the course of his career, Giraudo has gradually and effectively crafted a singular style that builds on but moves beyond typical large ensemble compositional writing. He uses chamber music and symphonic forms rather than considerations of sections, i.e., he advances past simply arranging the brass section for one element, the rhythm section for another, the woodwinds for a third, and so on.
Giraudo’s music contains elements of jazz, classical, and the tango and folk from his native land. While this approach is evident on all six tracks, it is more pronounced on the 18-minute, four-part title suite, which combines improvisation with supple orchestrations. As explained in the album’s liner notes, "El Viaje (The Trip)," expresses Giraudo’s thoughts and feelings from the time he found out his wife was pregnant, to the delivery of his offspring, and the general mood of the miracle of birth. The first and third movements share a nostalgic tone, and explicit leitmotifs that give the epic piece continuity. Initially on "Viaje I," Giraudo starts with just piano to introduce the melody, then brings in the reeds and the brass, and finally the bass, drums and percussion. Eventually solo trombone, trumpet, and sax emerge on top of the arrangement. The horns accentuate the inventive solos in just the right areas, which is a testament to Giraudo’s arranging gifts. "El Viaje II" has a restless spirit, with refined charts, and some uplifting trumpet improvisations that fit snugly into the highly organized orchestral number. "Viaje III" repeats the longing from the first movement, and includes some Astor Piazzola-esque tango references, with slowly spiraling solos from several horn players that underscore Giraudo’s fatherly tenderness. "Viajo IV" evolves to a vigorous pattern, with dynamic stabs of brass and discordant keyboards, adamant drumbeats, and soulful sax, suited to signify Giraudo’s excitement as a new father.
The other cuts also benefit from Giraudo’s multi-hued musical palette as well as the inclusive subject of fatherhood and family. Album opener "El Bajonazo" proficiently portrays Giraudo’s anxiety, apprehension, and happiness. Here, Giraudo showcases his articulate, modern touch, with neo-classical uses of strings and piano, spots where the horns often unexpectedly jump out, a bit of driving swing, and at the conclusion, a Frank Zappa-esque build-up filled with frictioned flourishes. As a perceptible contrast, on the convivial "Yarulina," Giraudo depicts an aural picture of his spouse’s personality. The song advances from a lovely percussion/bass opening thesis, to a spry design that emphasizes his wife’s femininity, and thence to some animated twists, marked by piano and brass, that represent her slightly distracted nature. "Yarulina" is the record’s most light-hearted moment, like watching two partners discover their mutual attraction on the dance floor.
The second-longest piece is the nearly 11-minute "Nachgeschmack," which Giraudo says is German for aftertaste, but in this case he refers to the lingering sweet and sour flavoring of his own life, from husband to father, and from partnership to raising a child. The poignant, prudently progressing theme is stated by a number of heartfelt solos, including sax, clarinet and muted trombones, while steady, swelling rhythms provide the conversational arrangement a steadfast effect. Giraudo furnishes the insistently contemporary orchestration a dramatic motion, much like a film score. "Punto de Partida," which reflects the moment of creation when two parents form a third person, is a relaxed, loose segment which layers contrapuntal lines against a carefully delineated melody. Sax, piano, and trombone lead the straightforward demeanor.
The set’s shortest ingredient is melancholy, contemplative closer, "Hiroshima," which is tamped by a brassy, wistful clarinet, and some burnished syncopation. The brief and disquieting auditory essay was written after a trip to Japan, where Giraudo played for terminal patients at a hospital and visited the Hiroshima museum that documents the suffering caused by the aftereffects of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
While El Viaje exhibits Giraudo’s prospering harmonic and melodic strengths, and his ability to produce intricate and polished assemblage interplay, the recording itself does not fully encapsulate Giraudo’s large group inclinations due to an ineffective mix and insufficient recording levels. At times the percussion and Giraudo’s eloquent bass slide too far below the other instruments, and occasionally the piano is curbed as well. Overall, though, this album is worth exploring and demonstrates Giraudo is an assured bandleader, arranger, and composer.
2-5. El Viaje Suite
2. El Viaje Tramo 1
3. El Viaje Tramo II
4. El Viaje Tramo III
5. El Viaje Tramo IV
8. Punto De Partida
— Doug Simpson