Cuban born pianist and composer Aruán Ortiz is just now starting to broaden his long-overdue recognition after two decades as a leader or collaborator. More than ten years prior to his new trio release, Hidden Voices
, he had drawn favorable comparisons to Chick Corea
and Ornette Coleman
with Aruán Ortiz Trio Vol. 1
(Pimienta Records, 2004). That outing featured an entirely different group but clearly set the groundwork for Ortiz' unique approach to creating and executing forward-looking music. Hidden Voices
is Ortiz' ninth outing as a leader or co-leader including the brilliant Textures and Pulsations
(Self-Produced, 2012) with fellow pianist and author Bob Gluck
. Ortiz has had an active presence as a side man as well, appearing on more than twenty recordings including those of trumpeters Steve Turre
, Wallace Roney
and bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding
Manning the bass chair is Grammy winning composer Eric Revis
who has worked with a wildly diverse array of musicians including Betty Carter
, Peter Brotzmann and Steve Coleman
in addition to leading a trio with pianist Orrin Evans
and Nasheet Waits
. Prolific and in high-demand, the drummer Gerald Cleaver
came into his own with the 2008 Farmers by Nature
(AUM Fidelity) with Craig Taborn
and Wiliam Parker.
With the recent releases of a number of Cuban albums that have coincided with the easing of Cuban-US relations, fans of what Jelly Roll Morton
referred to as the "Latin tinge" have had much to celebrate. However, Ortiz is not riding the wave of reinvented habanera, tango or danzón dance music. From the opening "Fractal Sketches" it is clear that Ortiz is only brushing against Cuban convention, opting instead for an avant-garde approach, lunging arpeggios and angular phrasing.
Neither does Ortiz abandon tradition, as heard on "Caribbean Vortex/Hidden Voices" where he introduces two well-known Cuban percussionists, Arturo Stable and Enildo Rasua, playing claves and adding a familiar rhythmic quality. True to the tune's name, it seems to have the power to pull one into a mesmerizing swirl of sounds, bookended by the resonating percussion. "Skippy," a frenetic piece at times, is anchored by a fine solo from Revis countering Ortiz raining down torrents of notes. "Analytical Symmetry"despite the austere titleworks around open phrases, patiently building like a visceral force.
Whatever Cuban influences that find their way into Ortiz' music, his intention seems directed toward creating enough disorientation to avoid locking his compositions into any one category. With Cleaver and Revis we hear a masterful balance between melody, tension and free jazz. Whether in the absence of tonal centers or in following more rigid guidelines, Ortiz and company play with a pliability and enthusiasm that is completely contagious. Hidden Voices
would be ground-breaking in any musical context but as we look to the Cuban influence on the future of music, it serves to remind that true innovators will emerge from the opening of these expanding markets as well.