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Don Byron/Aruan Ortiz: Random Dances And (A)Tonalities

Dan McClenaghan By

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Jazz albums have a history of featuring cool cover art, from drummer Chico Hamilton's Ellington Suite (World Pacific, 1959) and bassist Charles Mingus' Ah Um (Columbia, 1959) to almost all of the ECM Records catalog. Maybe grabbing the music-shopper's eye helps in the pulling of the wallet out the pocket or the purse. On the terrific duo album, Random Dances And (A)tonalities, from reedman Don Byron and pianist Aruán Ortiz, that visual introduction is four squares set together to make a larger square, inside the square of cardboard CD cover. The color-scheme is muted, subdued shades of white and grey, suggesting, perhaps, a subtle sound, full of right angles and straight line architectures. The visual introduction suggests a music of restraint, of sounds inside the lines. And it looks really cool.

"Tete's Blues," penned by Ortiz, opens the album. The pianist carves out a series and scalene triangles that sparkle darkly—not a right angle to be found. A minute in clarinetist Byron steps in, blowing the serpentine melody around the sharp piano points, as sweet and lovely as can be. Not a straight line to be found, and no geometrical constraints imposed.

Ortiz was born in Santiago de Cuba, but he's set down roots in Brooklyn in 2002; Byron was born in the Bronx. Both men are artists with expansive visions. Byron's is impossible to pin down—klezmer to jazz/classical to hip hop and funk; Ortiz is influenced by his Cuban roots, and jazz of the freer end on the spectrum. And certainly Thelonious Monk. He leans toward the percussive and angular, though he is often given to flowing moments of fluid beauty.

This (probably) leaderless duo outing opens with the Ortiz-penned "Tete's Blues." Ortiz constructs a dark fortress; Byron flies like a bird, rising over the parapets and looping around the watchtowers. Dark clouds hang low. A riveting version of Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy" is next, with Byron on his rarely employed—and distinctive—tenor saxophone. The horn's sound is big and bold, hollow and resonant and rough around the edges. Ortiz is somehow sprightly and ominous at the same time.

Duo outings offer freedom of a wide-ranging conversational nature. Ortiz and Byron make the most of this aspect throughout. The dreamy "Musica Callada: Book 1, V. ([M.M.] Crochet = 54)" is a gorgeous, searching journey through a landscape of patient reflection and stillness, a loosely choreographed dance between clarinet and piano, while Byron's "Joe Btfspik" (named for the bearer of bad luck in Al Capp's classic comic strip, "Li'l Abner) stretches the bebop idiom into its outer limits. with Byron playing tenor sax again. On "Arabesques of a Geometric Rose (Spring)" it sounds as if the composer, Ortiz, is channeling his inner Igor Stravinsky, in the duet mode, with a light/heavy keyboard dichotomy beneath Byron's free-flying clarinet.

Random Dances And (A)tonalities is a remarkably cohesive and unfailingly lovely statement from a pair of artists with disparate musical visions.

Track Listing: Tete's Blues; Black And Tan Fantasy; Música Callada: Book 1, V. ([M.M.] crochet = 54); Joe Btfsplk; Numbers; Dolphy's Dance; Violin Partita No.1 In B Minor, BWV 1002, II. Double; Delphian Nuptials; Arabesques Of A Geometrical Rose; Impressions On A Golden Theme.

Personnel: Don Byron: clarinet, saxophone; Aruán Ortiz: piano.

Title: Random Dances And (A)Tonalities | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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