Argentine guitarist-composer Federico Aubele was a long way from home Sunday evening at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, but he already knew that Washington would be a compatible locale. Aubele's recent album, "Gran Hotel Buenos Aires," was produced by D.C.'s Thievery Corporation, and has much in common with that outfit's sound: Both rely on loops and samples, and combine easy reggae rhythms and lounge-music melodies with a penthouse version of hip-hop's street-level aesthetic.
Performing live, Aubele downplayed some of his studio artifice in favor of a five-piece band that included a bassist, two percussionists and two female vocalists, one of whom played keyboards. (These singers, Gabriela Maiaru and Sumaia, are the principal female voices on "Gran Hotel Buenos Aires," but it also features two others.) The songs frequently began with some electronic chatter, and sometimes included recorded riffs from instruments the band didn't provide, such as trumpet or accordion. Still, most of the music was played live.
While he sat facing the audience rather than a mixing board, Aubele retained the role he has in the studio. He played Spanish-style guitar and occasionally sang, but served more as mastermind than frontman. As with Thievery Corporation, the focus shifted between the guest vocalists. The result was lush, deft and a little detached. Even when Maiaru and he performed "Malena," a venerable tango, Aubele seemed more technician than Casanova.
-- Mark Jenkins