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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

If Los Guachos call, New York jazz musicians listen. Los Guachos is the name of the band led by Argentine composer and pianist, Guillermo Klein. Some of New York's hottest jazz players have agreed to work for peanuts for the chance to play Klein's music. It's a challenging mix of Latin rhythms, classical harmonies and singable melodies. The band has a new album out but only performs on rare occasions.

Tom Vitale attended a recent show and has this profile of Guillermo Klein.

Mr. GUILLERMO KLEIN (Vocalist/Pianist, Los Guachos): Good evening. And welcome to Village Vanguard. It's great to play here in (unintelligible).

TOM VITALE: Guillermo Klein's composition "Vaca" is typical of the music played by Los Guachos. It begins with a teasing Argentine folk melody.

(Soundbite of song "Vaca")

VITALE: And it ends with excerpts from European classical composer Gyorgy Ligeti's "Hungarian Rock."

(Soundbite of song "Vaca")

Mr. BEN RATLIFF (Jazz Critic, The New York Times): There is a certain sense in his music of, like, oh, yeah, of course, you know? This makes complete sense, and yet I haven't really heard it done this way before.

VITALE: New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff says what makes Guillermo Klein's music strikingly original is its classical elements, from Bach-like fugues to minimalist repetition to a medieval technique of parceling out a melody out in a kind of round robin.

Mr. RATLIFF: This very old device called hocketing, which is where you have — let's say you have a row of trumpet players, and they're going to play a melody. Well, instead of all of them playing the same melody at the same time, each one of them, in sequence, will play a single note of that melody. So it sounds like the melody is being pecked out by a row of musicians.

VITALE: Klein's music, wrote Ben Ratliff in The New York Times, sounds like nothing else. That takes the composer a little aback.

Mr. KLEIN: I'm surprised that no one is doing what I'm doing if it's that original, because for me it's not original, it's just like a lot of people should be doing these type of things, things that are cross-styles, because that's what we are.

VITALE: Guillermo Klein is an international musician. He's lived in Spain, Boston, New York. He was born in Buenos Aires in 1970 to a well-to-do family. He says his father was a self-made man who started out as a laborer and ended up as the head of Argentina's telephone company. But his parents were not musicians. His teachers discovered his talent in grade school.

Mr. KLEIN: They give us a flute — boom — and I started playing "Superman" theme, and I start playing the "S.W.A.T." theme. And I realized that I could really play any melody that I heard. And also, I remember that time, I was like feeling that I had a gift. That was a gift, you know?

VITALE: Klein's parents paid for guitar lessons then bought him a piano. As a teenager, Guillermo played rock guitar. He studied classical music at a conservatory, but says he was kicked out because he couldn't read music well. Then Klein's parents sent him to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Mr. KLEIN: To go to Berklee, I realized I was with my peers. For the first time, I was like hanging out with people that was feeling life like I was, you know? And I didn't have to feel guilty about being a musician. Music for me is immense liberation and music makes me feel like I'm alive, man, you know? And I thank my parents for having the vision to say, okay, go.

(Soundbite of music)

VITALE: At Berklee, Klein studied composition and he discovered the jazz of Duke Ellington and Wayne Shorter. When he finished school, he came to New York and formed Los Guachos with a half dozen of his colleagues from Berklee.

(Soundbite of music)

VITALE: Klein established his reputation in the mid-1990s through weekly gigs with Los Guachos in Manhattan. His peers love working with him because he's what they call a pure musician — someone who plays for the joy of it, not the money.

Mr. KLEIN: This band is like a community, you know? We started playing for five bucks, for three bucks sometimes, even 50 cents once, you know? And we all get the same. There's no leader's fee. Because I write the music and stuff, but they really work hard for it. Even Ben Monder took one part yesterday and wrote his own part. So that's what makes this band so unique.

Mr. BEN MONDER (Guitarist, Los Guachos): He has one of the most personal compositional voices that I've encountered.

VITALE: Guitarist Ben Monder has played with dozens of bands on more than 100 records since he began playing with Los Guachos in 1996. But Monder says nothing he plays is quite like the music of Guillermo Klein.

Mr. MONDER: He has a unique take on rhythm. And, of course, the rhythms come out of Argentinean rhythms, but he puts his own spin on things and makes them his own. And for me, sometimes the biggest challenge is to figure out where beat one is.

(Soundbite of music)

VITALE: The band's name, Los Guachos, is Argentine slang that Guillermo Klein's record label translates as homeboys. But the composer says it's really an expletive that can mean both a really good musician and a really bad person. Klein says Americans, more often than not, mistake Guachos for the more common Gauchos — Argentine cowboys. He gets a kick out of that displacement.

Mr. KLEIN: I'm not a cowboy at all, you know? I'm a very urban type of guy. Guachos, you know, it has a really strong connotation. So I like things that makes you say, hey, what's going on? Since I'm a kid, I'm very triggered by stuff that makes me, like, snap, like lose my place for a second.

VITALE: But Klein says he still wants people to hear what he's hearing.

Mr. KLEIN: I'm walking around in the world. Like, I go to this conservatory when I'm a kid, and I hear information about Bartok, Ginastera, Mozart, Bach. And then I go to Berklee, and I hear information, and I absorb, really absorb the music of Wayne and the music of Duke. And then I keep walking, and I absorb whatever I hear. And in order to, like, give it back — it's like food that came to me and I want to make food for the soul of somebody else.

VITALE: To keep cooking, Guillermo Klein moved eight years ago to Barcelona, where he gets paid to teach composition. Now, he only gets to perform with Los Guachos once or twice a year. But he says that doesn't bother him. He's able to play his own music with his favorite musicians, and that's all he ever wanted.

For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: You can hear a full concert by Guillermo Klein and Los Guachos at the music section of our Web site, npr.org.

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