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Aruán Ortiz Trio: Live in Zürich

John Sharpe By

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Cuban pianist Aruán Ortiz just goes from strength to strength on his third release on the Intakt imprint, although it is his twelfth overall. While most of the repertoire on Live In Zurich appears on previous albums, what he does with it here, through dramatically extending and mashing pieces together, is nothing short of remarkable. This date at the Unerhört! Festival in the Swiss capital was the last of a two-week European tour, and that really shows in the tightness of the trio and their ability to negotiate the gear-shifts and switch-backs that Ortiz demands while making it seem unforced.

What they achieve is a stunning blend of the earthy and the cerebral. Partly that's down to Ortiz's grounding in the rhythmic complexity of his native island, allied to his classical training and appreciation of the jazz tradition. But it also stems from his choice of Chad Taylor to occupy the drum stool. Taylor, who first garnered international attention in the Chicago Underground Duo (etc) with cornetist Rob Mazurek, proves liable to conjure a groove at the slightest provocation but also unfailingly explores timbre and texture.

That much becomes evident straight from the off on "Part 1: Analytical Symmetry/Fractal Sketches" where the metallic twang of Taylor's mbira moves from spacious ritual to infectious dance. Thereafter comes a sequence of peaks and lulls, building intensity through an intoxicating series of interlocking patterns which would make Craig Taborn proud, only to draw breath via minimalist interplay, before launching again with renewed vigor. Within that mix there's still time for a reflective solo piano interlude, reminiscent of the fare on Ortiz's acclaimed Cu(ban)ism (Intakt, 2017), and for bassist Brad Jones to alternate between dark-toned impetus and supple, responsive counterpoint.

The trio repeats the same trick on "Part 2: Bass Improvisation/Etude #6 Op 10/Open Or Close & The Sphinx," although this time the component materials originate from sources as seemingly disparate as Chopin and Ornette Coleman. Jones' introductory solo segues into a corkscrewing vamp, doubled by Ortiz, and they're away into another enthralling excursion. The pianist shines here, early on endowing the dovetailed figures with a feverish intensity only increased by the independence of his two hands, then later ramping up the tension with a hammered single note over another bustling groove. In Ortiz's conception it's hard to tell where Chopin ends and Ornette starts, but the final bluesy bounce is all Coleman.

After such excitement, "Alone Together" offers a cooling balm, albeit one enlivened by Jones's swooping arco sighs and Ortiz's spattering crystalline droplets. Piano and bass set out the melody, with Jones' phrasing just a fraction behind the pianist, to create a sort of pleasantly woozy aural aftertaste. Towards the end, Taylor returns to mbira to engender a spectral shimmer, sitting perfectly behind Jones' gentle throb and Ortiz's tinkling piano, but also forming a satisfying echo of the disc's opening gambit, encouraging an instant rerun of this superb performance.

Track Listing: Part 1: Analytical Symmetry/Fractal Sketches; Part 2: Bass Improvisation/Etude #6 Op 10/Open Or Close & The Sphinx; Alone Together.

Personnel: Aruán Ortiz: piano; Brad Jones: bass; Chad Taylor: drums, mbira.

Title: Live in Zürich | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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