Aruan Ortiz - Cubanism

Label/Year: Intakt Records, 2017

Lineup – Aruan Ortiz: piano and composition.

Joining a powerful musical concept to a far-reaching technique, Cuban-born, New York-based pianist/composer Aruan Ortiz releases the second solo album of his career, 20 years after Impresión Tropical, his 1996 debut CD recorded in Madrid, Spain. The evolution is abysmal, and his contribution to the current elasticity of jazz is phenomenal. Lately, he has been a ubiquitous presence in the creative New York scene, appearing at the side of folks such as Michael Attias and Nasheet Waits, whose albums are part of my personal selection for this year’s best new releases, and gigging with other artists with a similar craving for exploration.

The ones who had the chance to listen to his previous work, Hidden Voices, recorded in trio with Eric Revis on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums, already know about Otiz’s amazing skills, both as an improviser and composer. However, his new outing, Cub(an)ism, offers a completely different vision, deliberately merging Afro-Cuban roots and rhythms with progressive jazz idioms where artistic abstraction and timbre acuity are prevalent.
The opening piece, “Louverture Op. 1”, reveals Ortiz’s independence of hands, each of them obeying to distinct lines of thought that envision to tell a story. At first, he holds to a reverberant, deep-voiced pedal with his left hand while flipping a ritualistic confluence of exciting rhythms and melodies with the right. The song, influenced by Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam, a representative voice of Cubism and revivalist of the Afro-Cuban spirit and culture, proceeds in a cyclic procession of rapid phrases and intriguing pulses.

Fairly dreamy, “Yambú” is a beautiful dismantlement of a Cuban rumba assembled into an evergreen musical inspiration whose low voicings and high-pitch trills are sensationally tone-controlled.

The longest piece on the record, at nearly 11 minutes, is “Cuban Cubism”, which echoes with suspenseful atmospheres, assimilating some darkness amidst its geometric shapes and interlocking planes. Silences provide the space to breathe and the dance is made through minimal pointillism, sporadic abrupt sweeps, and irregular multi-pitched grooves with strong percussive character. Similar guidelines are followed in “Monochrome (Yubá)”, in which Ortiz emulates the sound of a djambé or conga by smothering the keys with his left hand while designing simple upper melodies. Yubá is a toque of Tumba Francesa whose origins are Afro-Haitian.

The pianist throws in considerable amounts of tension on “Dominant Force”, a disjointed dance full of tone clusters that magnetize and liberate, and also on “Sacred Chronology”, a rhythmically daring composition containing sinuous lines, dissonant intervals, and tumultuous left-hand strikes.

Opposing to these while searching for an inner peace, “Passages” and “Coralaia” glide in quiescent silver waters. Although transpiring affability and composure, the former still searches reservedly, while the latter touches musicality with an auroral beauty.

Aruan Ortiz has so much music inside of him that we can feel the intensity when he touches the piano. Breeding ground for metaphoric poetry, Cub(an)ism is a  hybrid feast of heritage and novelty.

        Grade  A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Yambú ► 03 – Cuban Cubism ► 10 – Coralaia