Otmaro Ruiz: Sojourn (2009)
Conceptually, the whole sojourn concept is a wonderful way to express himself, at least for now. The care with which he has arranged his expedition, right down to the order of the tracks, is proof enough of a great ear for the sounds of the "places" he visits musically. This spans distant lands, from the place of his birth, Venezuela, to Brazil, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean, and Africa. Then he swings back in a wide arc to the USA, through a remarkable version of a Broadway classic by Leonard Bernstein, "Somewhere" from West Side Story.
"And Then She Smiles (Maya's Song)" establishes the deeply personal nature of some of this record. It is about relationships and bonding, in this case with the musician's two-year-old daughter. Then he branches out to Cuba via Africa on "Claveao," a track wonderfully underscored by Ruiz's sense of Afro-clave, hidden in the melody of the piece. "In The Shadows" and "The Simple Life" have a nostalgic ring as the pianist traverses the landscape of Venezuela; the former in a striking merengue meter. There is much more than calypso in "Tobago Road," as the musician promises. "Nube Negra" is a true fiesta.
"Easy to Say" pays fine tribute to the samba, and to the oeuvre of percussionist Airto Moreira. "Living Pictures" beautifully captures a wide swath of rhythmic territory, from samba to maracatú, capoeira to afoxé and much more, in a rich mélange of ideas couched in harmony. "Prelude to Life" and "Road Stories" are two tracks that go a long way toward establishing Ruiz's reputation as a composer of epic song. The former, a tribute to the late tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, is memorable. Brecker had also played EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), replaced here ever so cleverly by the bassoon.
That brings us to the horn player, Ben Wendel, who has an "old soul" charm and brings considerable charm and erudition to this project. His range of expression on bassoonon "The Simple Life" toois not just rare, but simply remarkable as well. Bassist "Carlitos" Del Puerto and the self-effacing drummer, Jimmy Branly, are other reasons why this record will remain in memory for a long time.
Track Listing: And Then She Smiles (Maya's Song); Claveao; In The Shadows; Tobago Road; Nube Negra; Until Tomorrow; Living Pictures; Prelude to Life; Somewhere; Easy to Say; The Simple Life; Road Stories.
Personnel: Otmaro Ruiz: piano, Fender Rhodes, additional keyboards, percussion and vocals; Ben Wendel: tenor and soprano saxophones, bassoon; Carlos Del Puerto Jr.: acoustic bass; Jimmy Branly: drums.
Record Label: Self Produced