Don Byron / Aruán Ortiz - Random Dances And (A)tonalities

Label: Intakt Records, 2018

Personnel - Don Byron: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Aruán Ortiz: piano.


Random Dances and (A)tonalities, the synergetic duo effort from American clarinetist/saxophonist Don Byron and Cuban pianist Aruán Ortiz, seduces us with an inviting and diversified repertoire that, besides a few originals, includes very personal renditions of tunes by Duke Ellington, Federico Mompou, Geri Allen, and J.S. Bach.

The album starts off with the magnetic incantation of “Tete’s Blues”, an Ortiz piece baptized in honor to Spanish pianist Tete Montoliu. Patterns with different coloration are part of a taut pianism that is slightly blurred by atonal strokes. The mystique comes from Ortiz’s left-hand with which he creates awe bass movements, while the disquieted dreamy tones are drawn from a series of tone clusters played in the middle register. Byron’s clarinet phrases are set against this background, expressing a luscious spontaneity.

Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy” peeks into a different era, striding throughout with a bluesy feel and ending in Chopin’s mode with a citation of his funeral march. Byron plays tenor on this one, opting for a more diatonic approach in comparison with his duo mate. He also plays this instrument on his playful “Joe Btfsplk”, an invitation to free exploration where he establishes a magnificent, nonstop communication with Ortiz, and on the following “Numbers”, an obscure essay influenced by pianist Muhal Richard Abrams’s musical concepts.

Their love of classical music bifurcates into the baroque and the contemporary. The former current is represented through a sublime solo clarinet interpretation of J.S. Bach’s “Violin Partita No.1 in B Minor”, and the latter with the formal rigor of a somewhat balletic variant of Federico Mompou’s “Musica Callada”, in which a methodical bass pedal underpins Byron’s unhurried phrases.

All those complex intervallic leaps in the melody of Geri Allen’s “Dolphy’s Dance” are enunciated in unison. Freewheeling improvised lines with motivic flair are also part of this tribute to the late pianist.

Byron’s “Delphian Nuptials” has much to do with pure lyricism and elegant simplicity. The piece was composed for a documentary about African-American playwright Lorraine Hansberry and both the motif-based melody and the chord progression are illuminating.

Before “Impressions on a Golden Dream”, an unrecognizable, amorphous take on Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty” that closes out the album, we have Ortiz’s “Arabesques of a Geometrical Rose (Spring)” from his Hidden Voices album, which the duo excavates in search of avant-garde treasures.

Nurturing an uncanny affinity for eccentric texture and dissonance, Ortiz found an excellent accomplice in Byron, whose unpredictable trajectories contribute for a musicality that radiates freedom.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Tete’s Blues ► 06 - Dolphy’s Dance ► 08 - Delphian Nuptials