CUB(AN)ISM / ORTIZ: Louverture Op. 1 (Château de Joux). Yambú. Cuban Cubism. Passages. Monochrome (Yuba). Density (Golden Circle). Dominant Force. Intervals (Closer to the Edge). Sacred Chronology. Coralaia / Aruán Ortiz, pianist / Intakt CD 290
I’ve had occasion to praise Aruán Ortiz previously, in a group setting, but here he spreads his wings in a solo session that is utterly fascinating. Using the piano almost like a conga drum at times, Ortiz’ music is both forward-moving in melodic-harmonic structure and as percussive as a Cuban band.
The relationship of these particularly pieces to cubism as a visual art form is not amiss. Ortiz takes his own music apart and rebuilds it in the abstract, rolling out his aural canvases like a master painter. At times, it’s even difficult to hear where one piece ends and the next begins, for instance the movement from Yambú to Cuban Cubism, although the latter is by far one of the most abstract—one might even say modern classical-sounding—pieces on the CD. Ortiz’ musical mind is so polyglot in its musical tastes that there are frequent moments where the mere concept of jazz, let alone the word itself, scarcely registers in the mind.
And make no mistake, Ortiz knows exactly what he is doing and has both a composer’s and an improvisor’s mind in addition to almost frighteningly prodigious technique. Although they operate in different aesthetics, I would place his work in the same vein as Wadada Leo Smith or Jack Reilly, two other “jazz” musicians who have a firm grasp of classical structure and aesthetics. Indeed, I could only describe Passages on this album as a classical piece, despite the jazz-like runs in the right hand here and there. In Monochrome (Yuba), Ortiz plucks the dampened piano strings with his right hand while playing a minimalist tune with his left around the middle of the keyboard…yet it is the plucked notes that become busier, more agitated and even more percussive, giving the piece a sense of being played by two different minds and possible even two different musicians.
If anything, the music becomes even more abstract as the album progresses. Indeed, I seriously doubt that most diehard jazz fans will be able to hang with Ortiz or understand what on earth he is doing by the time he reaches Density (Golden Circle), which is as atonal and abstract as anything written by a “serious” composer in the past 50 years. Eventually one discerns a pattern in the low-pitched, shifting chords, but the movement is slow and the musical pace granitic. This is music to describe lumbering brontosaurs on the range in prehistoric times.
We briefly recover a semblance of jazz in the Latin rhythms of Dominant Force, but neither the melodic line (minimal as it is) or the ungraspable harmonies will get through to those who prefer funky blues playing. Intervals is just that: slowly-played, widely-spaced single notes exploring intervallic sound. Sacred Chronology is so abstract that even I had some trouble following it: a piece of almost savage intensity (sharply-attacked single notes and crushed chords) that perhaps only Ortiz knows the meaning of. And yet it’s still fascinating to hear!
In the final number, Coralaia, Ortiz suddenly switches gears and gives us a lovely but very slow-moving tonal work that almost sounds like an Erik Satie exercise.
All in all, then, a stupendous display of compositional virtuosity (and diverging styles) from a composer-pianist who certainly deserves your attention. Aruán Ortiz may yet develop into one of the most creative and original composers in the world.
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley