The Piano Man
Miguel Bronfman / Buenos Aires Herald
Pianist Esteban Sehinkman is one of those Argentine talents whose work has been growing steadily in recent years, producing stimulating and original music that should deserve much more attention. After completing his musical studies in the US, where he was involved in Boston’s and Chicago’s jazz circuits, he released in 2003 his debut album, La espuma de los días, (BAU Records), in which he first exposed his own music accompanied by a classic quintet of US-based musicians: piano, drums, bass, trumpet and saxophone. With a contemporary jazz language, Sehinkman’s first output dealt with a fair dose of abstraction, academic writing, intricate, post-bebop rapid and intriguing lines and complex ground for soloing and improvisation. Some Astor Piazzolla airs were also present, along an interesting use of shifting rhythmic patterns and subtle counterpoints. The album proved to be more than auspicious, and while it received warm reviews from the critic, it paved the way for Sehinkman’s return to his homeland.
In 2007 and already established in BA, Bufalo (Limbo Records) was his followup, confirming his writing abilities again with a solid, acoustic group, much in the trend of its predecessor, deepening Sehinkman’s skills as arranger and unfolding even more flowing and graceful melodies, like the tender and wel-articulated Memorial, or the moving Tango Idish. There was also an arresting, long version of The Cure’s In Between Days (the only cover in the album), an intelligent and moody jazz meditation built from a powerful pop song from the 1980s.
Now, with his third album El sapo argentino de boca ancha (an independent release) Sehinkman gives a slight turn to on his approach, playing a Fender Rhodes synthesizer and in trio, with Matías Méndez on electric bass and Daniel “Pipi” Piazzolla on drums. Though the sound and style established by the celebrated trio Martin, Medeski & Wood throughout the 1990s is an unavoidable reference and indeed has an obvious, strong presence, Sehinkman and his cohorts are no imitators at all, and though they follow that path, they do have things to say which are all their own.
With a firm command of the Rhodes, Sehinkman jumps into this new setting (he wrote all the music) with a brisk attack and a powerful sound, surfing with confidence above rocking and in some cases funky grooves from the solid tandem of Méndez and Piazzolla. All the tunes in the album are not only well-crafted and serve as perfect springboards for effusive collective playing (the trio really burns together), but also provide an interesting variety of moods and climaxes.
While a classic piano trio might stay close or within an already known field and still do it fine, a Rhodes trio, due to the particular, dense and doughy, rather opaque sonority of the instrument, must necessarily show an extra amount of audacity, a certain willingness to explore new possibilities, uninhibitedly. Sehinkman has of course understood this, and his music shows that particular fire the instrument needs, be it in fast, bumping numbers, or in slow, mid-tempo ballads. He also knows when to roar (as he does in the opener, Villa Vicky, or in Micropunto), and when to slow down the pace and give way to his more melodic side, like in Tatami or Sadsong. Méndez is consistent and ubiquitous, providing harmonic ground without stepping the leader’s toes, and Piazzolla proves once again what a resourceful drummer he is, at times even stealing the show, never overstating but always finding stimulating, gliding vibes to propel the trio’s vigor. For the versatility and variety of his playing, his work with the group Escalandrum (which he co-founded several years ago) or with other local jazzmen such as Juan Cruz de Urquiza, should be checked.
The album has another important merit: the order of the themes, which definitely enhances the music and helps to capture the listener’s attention. After a feverish opening, it gradually goes through some calmer, sad and even lurking tunes and passages, re-emerging energetically with renewed excitement and enthusiasm, to finally close with Mantra, a slow, meditative piece in which Sehinkman goes back to the piano and delivers a peaceful, minimalist message built around a pleasant tiny melodic motive.
El sapo argentino de boca ancha is a truly eloquent, satisfying and passionate project by one of the most interesting voices on the local scene.