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Pablo Ablanedo Octet(o)



by Ian Mann

April 14, 2013


An impressive piece of work, a meticulously crafted album that features intriguing compositions, colourful and innovative arrangements and some excellent playing from a highly competent ensemble.

Pablo Ablanedo Octet(o)


(Creative Nation Music CNM023)

Pablo Ablanedo is an Argentinian pianist, composer, arranger and educator, originally from Buenos Aires but now based in the Boston area following his graduation in Jazz Composition from Berklee College of Music in 1996. Ablanedo has also spent time on the New York Jazz scene working with some of that city’s finest musicians, among them trumpeter Avishai Cohen, violinist Jenny Scheinmann, saxophonist Chris Cheek and guitarist Ben Monder. 

Since 2000 Ablanedo has worked regularly in the octet format, the fluctuating personnel sometimes featuring some of those musicians featured above. Two albums subsequently emerged on the Fresh Sounds New Talent label, “From Down There” (2001) and “Alegria” (2003).

“ReContraDoble” was funded by a Kickstarter project and appears on Creative Nation, the label of guitarist Eric Hofbauer. Hofbauer is also part of the group that plays on this record, an extended ten piece line up that also includes flautist Fernando Brandao, trumpeters Phil Grenadier and Greg Hopkins, reedmen Daniel Ian Smith and Kelly Roberge, bassist Fernando Huergo, drummer Franco Pinna and percussionist Bertram Lehmann. The voice of Katie Viqueira graces one piece, which we’ll come to later. 

The “Octet(o)” name has been chosen to make sense in both English and Spanish but it also symbolises the difference between this and the previous line ups. The unusual instrumentation makes for rich voicings and imaginative arrangements on a varied programme consisting mainly of Ablanedo originals but also including innovative versions of Charlie Haden’s composition “Silence” and The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”.

Ablanedo’s sleeve note defines “ReContraDoble” as “two pairs of voices which are always moving in contrary motion like distorted mirror images of each other”. It’s a compositional device that is used both on the title track and its companion piece “Antiphona”, both of which are based on an unusual Argentinian folk bimodal scale. The resultant music is more melodic and listenable than the mere technicalities might suggest. Indeed the album as a whole represents interesting and absorbing listening.

Lively opener “Mirando al Cielo” has a distinctive Argentinian feel and goes through a variety of chord and key changes. The distinctive blend of horns is immediately apparent and the exotic percussion of Pinna and Lehmann consistently interesting. Engrossing solos come from Smith on saxophone-initially unaccompanied- and guest trumpeter Hopkins who appears on four of the album’s eleven tracks.

Bassist Charlie Haden’s “Silence” maintains a strong narrative arc as Ablanedo and his colleagues build the piece in layers starting from Hofbauer’s guitar and gradually adding the sound of melancholy horns and atmospheric percussion. The core melody reaches full flower mid tune with flaring trumpet (Hopkins again at a guess) before the ensemble slowly strip back the layers again with Hofbauer’s guitar remaining at the heart of the arrangement.

Huergo’s electric bass opens “Departido” and he combines with the rest of the superlative rhythm section to to coax succinct solos from Roberge, Grenadier and Smith with Brandao’s flutes also prominent in the arrangement.

Ablanedo describes the atmospheric and dramatic “Antiphona” as “leaving open space for Grenadier to fully explore the written bimodal voicings, which are played freely by the guitar and later delineated by the horns”. It all sounds very spacious and there’s a certain grandeur and majesty about Grenadier’s trumpeting which makes it stand out from the otherwise austere arrangement.

The title track is a shorter, brisker exploration of the compositional device that gives the album its name. The featured soloists here are Huergo who displays a remarkable fluidity and fluency on electric bass (the sleeve photo suggests it’s a five string model) and drummer Franco Pinna whose colourful contribution stays well away from clichéd drum solo territory.

Ablanedo describes “Como Te Quiero” as “having an open vamp in which the four wind instruments mirror each other’s lines”. It’s a languid and sumptuous arrangement featuring the leader’s carefully paced piano and some delightfully detailed percussive embellishments alongside the intertwining horns and reeds of Roberge, Grenadier, Smith and Brandao.

Ablanedo’s imaginative arrangement adds both a touch of big band swing and a tinge of twelve bar blues to “Norwegian Wood” with solos coming from Brandao on flute and Roberge on tenor, both underpinned by a constantly evolving ferment of percussion. It’s a highly innovative take on a very familiar tune.

Guest singer Katie Viqueira delivers a powerful and affecting acapella version of the song Almita”.
Her rendition of the Spanish language lyric is full of passion and nascent power, characteristics that also distinguish gospel music. The piece is a little out of character with the rest of the album but even so it’s a magnificent vocal performance.
Viqueria’s relatively brief cameo is followed by a lengthier instrumental version of the same piece with Smith’s slow burning tenor solo replicating the low key passion of Viqueria’s vocal performance.

It’s Roberge’s tenor that is featured on the slowly unfolding “La Vaga”, a richly textured piece based around subtly evolving chord progressions. Finally “Las Buenas Nuevas” is a vehicle for the bravura trumpeting of Phil Grenadier (and for those of you who might have been wondering, yes he is the brother of bassist Larry). Not that “Las Buenas Nuevas” is just about blowing, the piece is as immaculately arranged and nuanced as everything else on the album. 

“ReContraDoble” is an impressive piece of work, a meticulously crafted album that features intriguing compositions, colourful and innovative arrangements and some excellent playing from a highly competent ensemble. It’s unmistakably Latin music but avoids all the clichés of the genre, this is Latin music played with discipline and precision rather than wild abandon and to these ears it’s all the more satisfying for that. Every track unfolds in an interesting way and Ablanedo’s carefully selected soloists each have plenty to say on their respective instruments. Ablanedo himself is totally selfless, his own playing serves the ensemble and this collection is notable for being a pianist’s record without any piano solos! Nevertheless Ablanedo can be proud of an album that demonstrates his considerable composing and arranging talents in the best possible light.

For further information regarding Pablo Ablanedo and his music please visit

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