Hilton Ruiz: Enchantment (2003)
The term Latin jazz is too confining a label to describe the multifaceted music created by Hilton Ruiz on this just released recording from November of 2000. The New Yorker towers over most other musicians of his generation in both talent and tuition, with an imposing two handed pianistic technique and impressive knowledge of music history, garnered in no small part through his early studies with jazz matriarch Mary Lou Williams. As a member of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's Vibration Society, Hilton built unassailable reputation upon this strong foundation, performing a remarkable repertoire that ranged from gospel to boogie to bop and pop with frequent excursions into the outside and what is now called "world music."
One of the more iconoclastic albums Ruiz recorded with Kirk was a 1975 date called The Case of the 3 Sided Dream In Audio Color. Rahsaan had more music than would fit on a single record, but not enough for four sides, so it came out on three. If Enchantment were to be issued on vinyl, it too would be a terrific three-sided record, exhibiting the leader's ability to play straight ahead, solo and Latin jazz with equal aplomb while also demonstrating his talents as a pianist, composer and bandleader.
Ruiz's acumen in the latter role is clearly evidenced in his enlistment of talented musicians others might not deem compatible and fusing them into a cohesive group. Hilton selected the great grand master bassist, veteran virtuoso Lisle Atkinson, for the central position previously filled by comparable elder statesmen Major Holley and Dr. Art Davis, clearly indicating his wisdom and respect for tradition. His recruitment of the versatile Venezuelan drummer Marlon Simon and powerful Panamanian percussionist Renato Thoms demonstrates an abiding desire to surround himself with exciting young musicians. Special guest saxophonist Chico Freeman, who blows alternately hot and cool, proves to be the perfect complement to the fiery core unit.
The disc's straight-ahead selections, “Seven Steps To Heaven,” the boppish original “I'll Call You Later,” the very Monkish shades of “Thelonious,” and Rahsaan's “The Business Ain't Nothing But The Blues,” each swing mightily. The Afro-Carribean pieces – the beautiful bossa tinged title track, the soulful cha cha cha “Sweet Cherry Pie” and the very funky boogaloo “Home Cookin'” – all dance distinctively. The disc's “third side,” a collection of five piano features including Jimmy Heath's “Gemini,” Joe Henderson's “Black Narcissus,” Strayhorn's “My Little Brown Book,” the tender original “Silhouette,” and Gordon Jenkins' “Goodbye” (which also showcases the beautiful bowing of Atkinson) is a stunning addition to the disc.
Track Listing: 1. Seven Steps to Heaven (Davis/Fieldman) - 2:11 2. Enchantment (Ruiz) - 7:12 3. I'll Call You Later (Ruiz) - 4:29 4. Sweet Cherry Pie (Ruiz) - 6:46 5. Gemini (Heath) - 4:56 6. Black Narcissus (Henderson) - 6:08 7. Shades of Thelonius (Ruiz) - 4:08 8. My Little Brown Book (Strayhorn) - 3:39 9. Silhouette (Ruiz) - 5:04 10. Goodbye (Jenkins) - 3:14 11. Home Cookin' (Ruiz) - 3:29 12. The Business Ain't Nothing But the Blues (Kirk) - 4:43
Personnel: Chico Freeman - Tenor Sax; Hilton Ruiz - Piano; Lisle Atkinson - Bass; Renato Thoms - Percussion, Conga; Marlon Simon - Drums.