Gonzalo Bergara – Portena Soledad

For years, friends and fans have begged Gonzalo Bergara to record. Finally, he has a debut CD – and it’s been worth the wait.

Bergara hails from Argentina but is based in California. Both locales infuse his music; a nostalgic melancholy weaves through, a lasting impression of Buenos Aires and a rainy-day tango in the district of Palermo, perhaps. At the same time, there’s a wide-open sense of possibilities – the other side of the coin, thanks to the wonders of California.

Bergara has honed his chops as John Jorgenson’s rhythm guitarist of choice over the past several years. And Jorgenson lends clarinet to one track here. But still, Bergara’s music is all his own.

There are no covers of Django tunes, no overplayed American jazz or Gypsy jazz classics. Instead, these are all originals – and they are the better and more intriguing for that.

The album kicks off with the rollicking swing of “B-612,” displaying Bergara’s hot licks, just in case you had any doubts. With his playing established, he then moves off to explore other avenues. “Elena’s Bossa” rides a stylish Latin rhythm while “Charcos” is an introspective, bluesy ballad. Throughout, the emphasis is on musicality. His playing is virtuosic, sure. But there’s so much more.

The album ends on a sentimental note with the title track, which recalls nuevo tanguero Astor Piazzolla’s Verano Porteo suite, an ode to the moods of Buenos Aires. Coco Trivisonno adds bandoneon along with Benedikt Brydern’s violin, and with Bergara’s Gypsy guitar leading the way, they create a glorious and lasting melody.

In all, this album is a masterpiece of a new kind of Gypsy jazz, taking Django’s work as a starting point for creating very personal music.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jul. ’08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.