Aruán Ortiz Quartet
Fresh Sound Records
Along with practice, listening, and performing, young jazz musicians are tasked with another mandatory job, exploration. This is a multi-faceted duty that requires the artist to dig deeper into all aspects of their musicality. They need to explore the standard repertoire of their chosen field, learning the inner workings of everything from “Autumn Leaves” to “Manteca.” This exploration reaches far beyond the tune itself, extending into a study of iconic performances and an examination of the song through their own lens. The musicians need to explore the greater musical world, connecting with styles outside their specialty that may provide a new perspective. They may split their time to accomplish this goal, sharpening their skills by journeying through a vast array of musical influences. Their new insights into different stylistic elements naturally leads into an investigation of the connection points between these different worlds. As the artist begins to perform with a regular group of musicians, they explore the aspects of their musical personalities around them. They learn the strengths and weaknesses of their peers and they expose their own skills to the group. A natural give and take evolves that establishes the basic relationship for a collective investigation of a shared musical vision. The resultant lessons from these explorations shape the musicians’ artistic vision and define their future work. Once they reach this plateau, they only hit a milestone, not a point of completion, as they step into new explorations continuing their artistic development. Cuban pianist Aruán Ortiz and his quartet explore a broad landscape of musical styles, performance techniques, and compositional strategies on Alameda, an inspired collection of diverse pieces.
Demonstrating A Broad Musical Palette
Ortiz leads his core quartet through a series of diverse pieces that allow them to demonstrate a broad musical palette. Bassist Peter Slavov and Ortiz explode into a syncopated melodic figure accented with aggressive snare drum hits from Eric McPherson on “Alameda,” easing into a serene line from saxophonist Abraham Burton. After a return to the rhythm section’s original feel, Burton carefully explores the foundation with his improvisation, sending rapid streams of running lines into screaming high notes. Ortiz slowly moves into his statement, stretching long reflective phrases over the busy backdrop and relying upon harmonic dissonance to create a layer of tension. A wash of darkly colored chords add a dramatic intensity to Ortiz’s unaccompanied melody reading on “Liz’s Flower.” As Burton carefully joins Ortiz for a full journey through the theme, Slavov and McPherson add rich textural compliments. Arpeggiated chords, cymbal rolls, and long bass notes rise and fall behind Burton’s solo as the four musicians simultaneously fill the melody with emotional impact. Ortiz and Burton dramatically shape a unison melody on “Slow Motion” until sharp rhythmic attacks send the piece into an assertive momentum. Slavov and McPherson leap into a loosely clave driven rhythm as Ortiz slices through the backdrop with focused chromatic lines and syncopated rhythms. Burton soars into his improvisation with majestic long notes that evolve into increasingly tense running phrases and screeching explorations of his upper register. The quartet shows a unified understanding of Ortiz’s compositions on these tracks, applying diverse techniques and focused listening to create a distinct group sound.
Exploring Other Ideas In A Trio Setting
Ortiz pares his group down to a trio for two pieces, allowing him to explore interests outside the scope of the full group. A cleverly structured rhythmic vamp from Ortiz and Slavov establishes the chordal structure while McPherson places distinct accents within steady eighth notes on a smart arrangement of Frederic Chopin’s “Etude No. 6, Op. 10.” Ortiz reveals his diverse background in classical music, jazz, and Latin genres with a rhythmically rearranged version of the composer’s melody before transitioning into an inspired improvisation. Slavov uses smart thematic development and rhythmic displacement to construct a short but poignant statement over rich chords. The somber sound of Slavov’s unaccompanied bass resonates with a serious thoughtfulness on “Landscape Of A Dry Watermelon” delivering an attention-grabbing introduction that clearly demonstrates his able technique and strong ability to develop themes. The bassist falls into a steady groove until a racing breakbeat from McPherson and thick chords from Ortiz’s Fender Rhodes shatter the setting. The trio settles into the new groove and Ortiz flies through the keys with fusion-like intensity that sends the group into a frenzied ending. These pieces find the rhythm section interacting in an exposed setting that explores different interests and builds upon their vast knowledge.
A Fiery Edge To The Quartet’s Sound
Saxophonist Antoine Roney joins Ortiz and his group on several pieces, adding a fiery edge to the quartet’s sound. Norris hits large bombastic chords underneath a racing melody on “Gregorio’s Mood,” establishing a frenetic pace. The momentum slams to a halt as the rhythm section falls into a medium swing behind Roney, until the saxophonist pushes the rhythm section into an energetic double time with ferocious licks. Slavov and McPherson maintain the driving groove while Ortiz winds angular lines through his statement, leading into a freely interpreted improvisation from Burton, who builds into an aggressive series of screaming phrases. Roney and Burton exchange phrases, forming an intertwining melody on “Bird’s Motif” while Ortiz slams powerful chords against the rhythm section. Roney charges into his statement with a fierce conviction, punching the rhythm section with his edgy tone and Ortiz follows suit with a dissonant statement that explores the outer edges of the harmony. Burton flies over the chaotic setting with stormy note clusters until both saxophonists engage in an inspired conversation with McPherson. The sparse ring of cymbals builds into a colorful drum kit introduction on “Green City,” as McPherson takes an extended improvisation that sparkles with creativity. The drummer continues to freely improvise as Burton and Ortiz preset the main melody with an understated grace. Roney and Slavov enter the mix as the group falls into a lengthy collective conversation. Roney’s presence on these tracks pushes the group in a much more intense performance approach, allowing them to explore another aspect of their musicality.
Taking The Task Of Exploration Seriously
Ortiz and his group take the task of exploration seriously on Alameda, stretching the boundaries of Latin Jazz and modern music. It would be hard to classify Ortiz’s music into either of these genres; the pianist touches upon both of them in an authentic and original way. There are pieces of Afro-Cuban rhythmic elements, jazz harmonies, classical melodies, and more. Ortiz avoids superficial references though; his compositional ideas are filled with integrity and intelligence. In fact, all evidence points to the fact that Ortiz has done his homework; his pieces reflect a framework built upon serious study. Ortiz and his quartet take the structure provided by his compositions and apply a creative group process that takes the music to another level. Each band member employs an unconventional freedom to the music that layers the compositions with thick textures, vibrant colors, and dark overtones. This results from the quartet’s strong group communication and developed understanding of performance techniques that allows them to play off each other with a telepathic strength. Slavov and McPherson work as perfect band mates to Ortiz, grooving when necessary and falling into coloristic textures at other times. Roney and Burton contrast each other beautifully, injecting the music with potent doses and fire and cool. The group explores the full range of Ortiz’s music liberally on Alameda, arriving at a unique juncture filled with original artistic ideas.
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