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

Jerome Wilson By

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Aruán Ortiz is a Cuban-born pianist who has worked with a number of progressive jazz luminaries including William Parker, Oliver Lake and Nicole Mitchell. Here he performs a program with clarinetist Don Byron which touches on a wide spectrum of music from J. S. Bach's formal beauty to Duke Ellington's crafty blues.

The two men show the ability to knit their styles together from the first track, Ortiz's own "Tete's Blues," with Byron's clarinet snaking its way through Ortiz's thicket of ominous, hammering chords. On the Geri Allen composition "Dolphy's Dance" they play the twisting melody in unison before developing a craggy, involved dialogue. They turn to the classical field for a haunting duet on Federico Mompou's "Musica Callada: Book 1, V.," the piping sound of Byron's clarinet and Ortiz's spaced right-hand flourishes peeking through a curtain of repeated low-end piano notes.

Byron breaks out his seldom-heard tenor sax in a few places. His own "Joe Btfsplk" is a bebop-centered jaunt where he blows exuberantly while Ortiz plays cat-and-mouse with the chords of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee." Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy" is given a smoother ride. Byron leans into the melody with a heavy tone while Ortiz trudges beside him playing off-center ragtime/stride piano. Tenor is also heard on Ortiz's piece "Numbers," but piano carries the lead at the beginning, methodically climbing while the tenor swoons against it. The piece eventually settles into an uneasy noir mood with heavy bass chords and icy high notes from the piano encircling increasingly harried saxophone.

Bach's "Violin Partita No. 1" makes a lovely, flowing solo clarinet feature for Byron, while on his own piece "Delphian Nuptials" a circular clarinet figure wraps around mellow, blues-tinged piano elaborations which sound like laid-back Keith Jarrett. "Impressions on a Golden Theme," credited to both men, is supposedly based on Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty" but the hard bop standard is dissected and transformed until it reemerges as a delicate cloud of short clarinet and piano phrases that connect into a dreamy abstraction.

Ortiz-Byron duets range from recognizable jazz and classical shapes to beautiful, original forms with only a nodding relationship to conventional jazz. At different points, this music can be ominous, gentle, familiar or alien but it is always intriguing. These two men bring out something special in each other's thinking and playing.

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.


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

Album information

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


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