We come to artists we know with expectations. That's why it is virtually impossible to crack the high art gallery code without having a readily discernible style. Only when you are absolutely established can you make a significant change and still be taken seriously. While we claim to prize the artist's search and spontaneity, the artist as explorer, we come with expectations. If your expectations for Simpicated, Gonzalo Bergara's new CD, are for gypsy swing greased with technical wizardry, photon-speed arpeggios and at least a few familiar standards you can poach for licks, you may be disappointed. If, however, you prize the artist's journey, if you are willing to follow him away from the familiar, if you have a taste for music that is original, thoughtful, even profound, then: Simplicated. There are two Bergaras. One is the performer with a canny knack for enjoying what his audience enjoys. In his live shows, audiences revel in his great skill showcased in both original compositions and bountiful selections from the Django repertoire. It's whoa impressive. But Simplicated is the work of an altogether different person, Gonzalo Bergara, the composer. He is less beholden to flash, his playfulness is less direct and far more cerebral. The compositions are as internally rigorous as the first year in a monastery. No frills, no bullshit, a careful steady eye on the music alone. But if you want a shot of speed-demon pyrotechnics, all is not lost; skip right to the last track. And put rubber bands around your socks if you don't want them to come off. His playing is no less exact here, just rarely as flamboyant. Frankly, the music seldom calls for that kind of flash. The quartet's years of taking local gigs pays serious dividends too. The ensemble fairly glistens. Though it's easy to point to Rob Hardt's exhuberant skill on reeds as the reason, Jeff Raiditch has in fact become a superior rhythm guitarist, comfortable not only with the foursquare Parisian gypy pompe but the panoply of Latin rhythms that are called for as well. And quiet Brian Netzley isn't so quiet with a bass in hand. He's like the utility infielder who somehow winds up being the World Series hero. But the CD is no more about individual performers than Beethoven at the Hollywood Bowl. You're there to hear the composition. You expect the Philharmonic to get the job done. Simplicated is about the compositions. They are by turns, tough, gentle, complex, simple, melancholy, upbeat -never simply cheerful-- but always powerful. "Gonzalogy" is a cute title that has nothing to do with "Djangology." It's much closer to "Rhythm Futur" or "Bemsha Swing." It begins with a recurring runaway figure, like a rock tumbling down a mountain, hitting an upsweep and then tumbling further down but without danger, make that a runaway toy train. And suddenly it stops. Cold. And for longer than you expect. That's the moment you know you are in the hands of a master, someone for whom every detail has meaning. You may never know what that meaning is, but you can feel it's there. Then Bergara and Hardt solo. Immediately the two contrasting styles are apparent. Bergara is all hard angles, sharp left turns and rhythmic hairpins. He favors a staccato attack. Every note is it's own boss. Hardt is legato even at 120 mph. And he is lighter. He finds a bright tonic in every arpeggio. The opening fall is repeated. And out. It is both simple and complicated. And not for the last time on this CD. A hesitant arpeggio leads to a simple rhythmic chop in "Simplicated." That chop will be repeated over and over without much adornment through most of the piece, relieved only a few times by a tremolo or strum. It is inescapable. No matter how sweet the melody -and you may need an insulin injection-that pounding rhythmic figure keeps the piece from any sense of soaring, even when Hardt's clarinet sweeps heavenward. It's as if those two simple parts together begin thinking they were meant for each other, but never quite come together as expected. Ever had a relationship like that. Ever had ten? Hardt's heraldic sax opens "On A Good Day," a joyous announcement, sunny, effulgent. The bossa rhythm begins and Bergara glides into the charming melody. (It is easy to belabor Bergara's melancholy, but he is also almost always utterly charming ) However this charming melody never resolves. Hardt picks it up on sax, but he ends with no resolution in sight. A minor release intros the solos which may lead you to wonder if perhaps the song has been mistitled. No. It's just that Bergara is -even on a good day-a thoughtful man. He can never quite escape a certain dolor, uno sentimiento trágico de la vida. Then with Hardt's solo, mandolin and flute join in and lead to a final moment of light-hearted and certain cheer. How else define a good day without being fatuous? A moment is all you get. "La Muerte de Un Lobo Bueno": (If you're unfamiliar with the story, google "good wolf bad wolf".) The sustained rhythmic figure here -like much of the album-- is more than persistent. It's almost punishing. Likewise the strange, thin, metallic sound Bergara pulls from his guitar. Add the full-on melancholy of Hardt's clarinet and you have the music for Guernica, after the bombing. No fiery torches or screaming horses, just destroyed walls, smoke and weeping. Then in the midst of this sorrow, a sudden, last ferocious battle. For a full minut, the instruments rush headlong toward...what? As well ask a lemming, "What's the hurry?" "Broken" is a bit like "B-612" from Porteña Soledad: Straight late 30s swing. Fun but with a memory of the Depression still hanging in the background. Bergara gives the bulk of the solo work to Hardt who simply plays every note he can find room to stuff in. Like he's been kept in his room too long and relishes the chance to run in the sunshine. Then suddenly the song breaks. Stops. And when it begins again, it is neither clarinet nor guitar that takes up the second theme; rather it's the bandoneon playing a heart-wrenching melody straight out of Dimitri Tiompkin. (Check his theme from The High and The Mighty.) This suggests just how theatrical Bergara's work has become. Maybe from years of non-stop performing. Broken never returns to the mock cheerful opening. How could it? "On a Bad Day": Begara manages to turn the trope on it's head as he did in "On a Good Day." That is, despite the heaviness, there is, underlying, a kind of sweetness clearest in Hardt's high register. Until a cello comes from nowhere to tamp down any high spirits. Hardt again tries to lift the feeling, but when the guitar comes back in, the loss seems inescapable. Still Hardt battles valiantly. The rhythm gets heavier and darker. But he sails like a bird straight through to the end. If the joy of a good day is evanescent, the struggle on a bad day is redemptive. The daring of "Una Carioca" is that they've already got Jobim and Bonfá. So who the hell does Bergara think he is? Someone who owns that rhythm as if he were born to it, an inescapable ground over which his melodies can soar. The warm, fat tone of Hardt's sax reminds of Stan Getz but much tougher, less ingratiating. He dares to be harsh. The guitar comes in pizzicato, sprightly, engaging. Nothing changes the elemental pleasure of the piece. It's a love song. This is a really good day. Finally the suite that concludes the CD: "Una Primavera Equivocada." The title might be translated A Wrong Spring or A Mistaken Spring, even A Misguided Spring. In any event a Spring wrong-headed enough to warrant September, October and November as it's guiding spirits. As fine as his compositions have been up to this point. "Una Primavera Equivocada" is at another level. The three movements are of a piece. They build and flow into and out of each other. "Septiembre" begins with another unrelenting rhythmic figure. A dark, autumnal melody plays out across it. The guitar is thicker, fuller and for a moment in the middle -very rare in his work-almost bluesy. But there is no escape from the underlying pulse. None. "Octubre" opens with a winsome rhythmic riff. The darkness of "Septiembre" is not immediately apparent. There is more lilt than sadness. Even the occasional moments of darkness seque into sweetness again. Until the end. Like the Death of a Good Wolf, the music suddenly turns. It's All Hallows Eve in Spring. The increasingly startling flourishes build to an explosive and abrupt conclusion. "Noviembre" starts where "Octubre" left off. It swirls madly, faster and faster, until there is nowhere else to go. It is an incredibly difficult passage and yet is the least show-offy piece of speed playing ever. This is the purest writing for classical guitar Bergara has done. Una Primavera Equicada is a piece for the repertoire as surely as Libertango. Which is appropriate since Astor Piazzola is the guiding spirit of Bergara's musical journey, his Beatrice. Tango informs everything he does. The gypsy flourishes are almost all gone. Only the passion remains. The one knock that might be leveled at this CD is that it is not especially welcoming and it is somewhat relentless. One might say the same of the sea.