Aruán Ortiz and Michael Janisch Quintet

Banned in London
Whirlwind Recordings WR 4628

Bob Gluck/Aruán Ortiz

Textures and Pulsations

Ictus Records 167

By Ken Waxman

Equally dexterous as part of a high-energy combo as in a cerebral keyboard showcase, Cuban pianist Aruán Ortiz is at home in NYC where he`s done everything from backing Wallace Roney to composing ballet scores. Each of these fine CDs highlights a different facet of his talents.

Banned in London is a vigorous quintet date which gives the players space to stretch out on two standards, two Ortiz originals and one by co-leader bassist Michael Janisch, a London-based American. Forceful power comes from Colorado-raised drummer Rudy Royston; with the band filled out by the blazing trumpet of Raynald Colom from France, who also plays in flamenco groups; plus veteran alto saxophonist Greg Osby.

Neither Osby’s M-Base leanings nor flamenco inflections make their way onto this live club date, which is unabashedly straight-ahead. Instead the saxman’s intense flutter tonguing and the brass man’s triplet-twisting timbres recall the classic Jazz Messengers front line. But this is emulation not duplication. Janisch even has the cojones to begin “Precisely Now”, the CD’s first track, with a more-than-two-minute unaccompanied bass solo.

Ortiz’s originals showcase different motifs; slithery and sneaky on “The Maestro” and metronomic and percussive on “Orbiting”. The first has brassy squeezes from the trumpet on top, corkscrew sax vibrations in the middle and the bottom dedicated to Royston’s hard rim shots and blunt cymbal slaps. Before the head is recapped, the tune is driven by its composer’s sinewy polyrhythms and kinetic runs. A contrapuntal invention, “Orbiting” moves from mid-range coloration to a protracted final section where the pianist and drummer trades fours, with Ortiz repeatedly feeding Royston brief measures to which he responds with beat variants.

Unfortunately the quintet’s version of “Ask Me Now” is disappointing, lacking the lean power of Monk’s original. Still the band makes up for it with a vibrant take on “Jitterbug Waltz”. A showcase for Osby, his whorls and snaky multiphonics create a wholly original variant. Simultaneously Ortiz exposes the melody, then deconstructs it with sharp glissandi and pedal-emphasized passing chords.

An alternating current, Textures and Pulsations finds Ortiz playing piano and computer alongside Bob Gluck’s piano and Moog synthesizer on eight instant compositions. University at Albany Electronic Music Studio director Gluck has one foot in improv and the other in electronics. This CD takes advantage of both talents.

It’s obvious this is a completely spontaneous session since Gluck and Ortiz appear more comfortable balancing the acoustic and the electronic by the second half of the recital. Before that the outstanding track is “Red”, where interplay between Oritz’s staccato keyboard melodies and vibraharp-like pops from Gluck’s synthesizer sound like the unified program Sun Ra and Walt Dickerson realized on their duo disc.

From then on the cohesion keeps improving, with some tracks more electronic and some more acoustic. Another stand out is “Interludio”, which highlights an array of references in turn. With pulses that could come from a rock guitar at the top, the two keyboardists next get into a tremolo duet with the power and interactivity of a boogie-woogie piano team. Just as quickly the parts are split, with one piano propelling high-pitched tones forward and the other emphasizing wide cadenzas, as oscillating electronics take on the percussive role. In contrast, aviary-like processed yelps and whistles get equal time with the pianos on “Green”, as one player extends his slithering glissandi upwards as the others complement them with arpeggios, until both combine with soundboard rumbles.

Ortiz’s keyboard command is aptly demonstrated here. With this powerhouse playing it may soon be he who is seen as the subject of his composition “The Maestro”.

Tracks: Banned: Precisely Now; Jitterbug Waltz; Orbiting; Ask Me Now; The Maestro

Personnel: Banned: Raynald Colom: trumpet; Greg Osby: alto saxophone; Aruán Ortiz: piano; Michael Janisch: bass; Rudy Royston: drums

Tracks: Textures: Blue; Yellow on Red; Red; Black and White; Interludio; Green in Blue; Green; Epilogo

Personnel: Textures: Aruán Ortiz: piano and computer; Bob Gluck: piano and Moog synthesizer

—For The New York City Jazz Record May 2013