Aruan Ortiz Brings His Lavish, Ambitious, Relevant New Material to the West Village
Pianist Aruan Ortiz gets plenty of props for his chops, but he deserves more appreciation for how eclectic he is. Like Vijay Iyer, he’s ambitious enough to play an entire set on microtonal piano (in Ortiz’s case, with Amir ElSaffar’s eerily majestic large ensemble). Like most of the current crop of expat Cuban pianists, the depth of his classical training informs his knack for a catchy tune, as well as his orchestral ambitions.
There will be a lot of those at his show Dec 6 at 7:30 PM at Greenwich House Music School. The first set features a duet with a unnamed special guest (wild guess: Paquito D’Rivera). The second features two new chamber-jazz pieces: Living in the Midst of a Twisted Globe, performed by violinist Mary Rowell, cellist Jeffrey Zeigler and pianist Geoffrey Burleson; and Ogguere (When the Soul of the Earth Dances Around Spectral Motions), played by a brass quintet including Daniel Blankinship and Nate Wooley (trumpets), Ryan Keberle (trombone), Vince Chancey (French horn) and José Dávil (tuba). Cover is $25/$20 stud., which hints that the special guest might be really famous.
Ortiz’ album Orbiting, streaming at his music page, offers a good look at his diverse approach to composition as well as his formidable technique. The performances are expansive; everybody in the band gets plenty of opportunity to contribute, and the material doesn’t often fit any kind of easy A-B-C pattern or facsimile thereof.
The first number, Ginga Carioca begins with a brain-warping duel between Ortiz’s left and right hand, in completely different time signatures, finally coalescing as Rashaan Carter and Eric McPherson’s elegant bass and drums come in, guitarist David Gilmore taking centerstage with a low-key but punchy, tropically-inflected solo. Lingering piano belltones anchor a bubbly, bustling bass solo and then recede; finally a steady clave kicks in amid the rhythmic jousting.
The title track opens with a trickily syncopated, aptly circling theme, then edges toward a gritty waltz on the jagged wings of the guitar. From there, a brief Afro-Cuban interlude and then a darkly insistent coda complete the picture. From a catchy, rubato build through the opening riff and dancing solo bass, The Heir follows a long build to a wary, syncopated, distorted Gilmore solo, enigmatically spiraling chromatic piano and finally a towering McCoy Tyner-esque coda
Koko morphs from a squirrelly intro to a brisk swing shuffle with wry, jaunty conversation between Ortiz and Gilmore. Numbers, a tone poem of sorts, alternates between majesty and murky menace: it wouldn’t be out of place in the early Herbie Hancock catalog.
Held together with spacious, lingering block chords from Ortiz over a scrambling backdrop, Wru is a launching pad for a long Gilmore solo that finally cedes to the bandleader’s dark resonance and hypnotically clustering attack. After a long, majestic solo Ortiz intro, Green City shifts between clave gravitas, hard-hitting urban bustle and more darkly subdued territory,
The album concludes with the most funereal take of Alone Together you could imagine: flickering brushwork, mournful chords and surreal volume-knob guitar move slowly outward to bolero hints, a judicious, spare bass solo and takes your breath away when the band come full circle. This is very serious, tuneful stuff: give it a spin before the Greenwich House show if you’re going.