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On an island known for its extensive array of virtuoso pianists, Cuban-born Aruan Ortiz distinguishes himself from the pack by a transcendent approach to his instrument, and an encyclopedic knowledge of styles ranging from traditional Afro- Cuban and classical to bop. He's also a prolific composer. Having roared into New York City and taken it by storm in a variety of settings, he now holds down the piano chair for the visionary Afro Horn MX group, composed a collection of Afro-Haitian vocal and chamber music from his hometown of Santiago with the Urbana Camerata Ensemble, and he has recorded electronic music with Bob Gluck.
With the release of Orbiting, Ortiz has completely eschewed his Afro-Cuban roots and recorded a set of straight-ahead music with a quartet consisting of guitarist David Gilmore, his Afro Horn comrade Rashaan Carter on bass, and veteran drummer Eric McPherson. Ortiz starts the set off with "Ginga Carioca," a piece whose ever-so subtle Afro-Brazilian accent places more emphasis on melody than rhythm. He then segues into the title tune, a take on Bill Evans' "Unless It's You." While Ortiz and Gilmore converse in a call-and response manner, Carter's lyrical subtlety perceptively anticipates Ortiz's every move. Another highlight of this date is a hyperactive riff on "KoKo" where Ortiz and company tear through this tune like it's their last living performance. Drummer McPherson takes a cue from the Max Roach playbook on the opening, as Gilmore displays the lightning virtuosity which distinguished his work with the M-BASE crew, with Ortiz matching Gilmore note for note on his frenetic accompaniment.
The group then takes a trip into harmolodic territory on "WRU," showcasing Gilmore's skills as one of the most visionary guitarists of his generation. The set closes with a melancholic return to Ortiz's home on a rendition of "Alone Together" by evoking a Havana rum-mill at 3 a.m. where the last customer is thinking of every reason not to go home to an empty flat.
On Orbiting, the erudite Ortiz has smashed every preconception of Latin pianists and his penchant for innovative expression succeeds in surpassing the output of his musical contemporaries.
Track Listing: Ginga Carioca; Orbiting; The Heir; KoKo; Numbers; WRU; Green City; Alone Together.
Personnel: Aruan Ortiz: piano; David Gilmore: guitar; Rashaan Carter: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.