Jazz composers don't put together octets to be loud; they do it because they're thinking orchestrally — varied colors and voicings, and in the case of Pablo Ablanedo's Octet(o), contrary rhythmic motions. Ablanedo is originally from Buenos Aires, and his music is constantly percolating with a variety of folkloric South American dance rhythms. At the Regattabar Thursday night (February 7), celebrating the release of ReContraDoble (Creative Nation Music), he continually set his five-man front line of horns (including a flute) aloft with long melodic lines and slow-moving chords, while underneath, bassist Fernando Huergo, drummer Franco Pinna, and percussionist Bertram Lehmann churned away, joining the music at the hip. Guitarist Eric Hofbauer, meanwhile, was a lynchpin between top and bottom, chording, filling, extending the harmonies, paralleling the melodies. Ablanedo guided the band's rhythms and harmonies from the piano.
The Octet(o), with 10 members, is an expanded version of Ablanedo's long-standing Octet. He likes all those voices, and he needs all that rhythm. Sax would introduce a melody, then be joined by muted trumpets. Or Ablanedo would ask tenor sax Kelly Roberge to double on clarinet against Fernando Brandão's alto flute, coloring the music's midrange (like a hint of Argentine bandoneon).
The tunes were a sweet variety as well, though they the hewed mostly to slow or medium tempos. Especially effective was Ablanedo's arrangement of Charlie Haden's "Silence," its slow-moving unison horn line a minor-key Spanish lament. On the other hand, Hofbauer's a cappella "Dear Prudence" led to an upbeat, Latinized "Norwegian Wood." Several songs broke off for cadenzas, little solo breaks, putting the spotlight on a single voice. This was the band for solos: Hofbauer, Roberge, Brandão, tenor and soprano saxophonist Daniel Ian Smith, trumpets Greg Hopkins and Phil Grenadier. The album-title tune, meanwhile, was arranged with breaks for the rhythm section. It was a poised, serene band performance, and a good representation of the album.