CD Review: The Aruán Ortiz & Michael Janisch Quintet feat. Greg Osby – Banned in London

The Aruán Ortiz & Michael Janisch Quintet feat. Greg Osby – Banned in London
(WR4628. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

What happens when such creative, dynamic musicians meet? Light the fuse and listen to the fireworks. London-resident US bassist Michael Janisch plays sensitively, and yet is a driving force. The album opens with his fine rootsy solo on his own tune Precisely Now. You’re carried along by its rhythmic determination into a moody tune, with dusky modal chords. It’s loosely in 5, with some tripwire bars of 6, and Cuban pianist Aruán Ortiz’ piano comes straight in with an altered chord- no concessions made to sweetness. Spanish trumpeter Raynald Colom’s solo has an incandescent tone, with an undertow of breathiness, and unpredictable intervals redolent of Woody Shaw. Long ringing notes alternate with blazing chromatic runs. He’s worked with Randy Brecker and has some of the latter’s bravura style. The whole band responds with massive energy.

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US altoist Greg Osby (who LondonJazz interviewed at the beginning of his project) is perhaps the best known in the band- the album title harks back to his 1998 live album Banned in New York. Osby recorded Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz on his Invisible Hand CD, and this Banned in London version is very jittery indeed, sketching the melody and darkening the harmony. It begins with an extraordinary sax cadenza. It’s as though Osby’s transcribed his musical phrases from the intonation of human speech, like Steve Reich. He’s one of the most imaginative saxophonists around today. His solo has tantalising hints of M-BASE, Steve Coleman-esque phrases, but less cerebral, more emotive. Each note is cool and clearly-defined, with very few bent notes, as if the sax is a piano.

Any relaxed bluesiness is undermined by Ortiz’ dissonant piano chords- lots of tritones, banned in Medieval Church music, but fortunately not banned in London. Monk’s Ask Me Now is the other standard here, and is a gentle contrast to the other tunes, a breathing space. Ortiz’ rubato opening is Monkish but more Romantic, with pedalled sweeps. Osby and Colom play exquisitely: high gentle sax (a little Charles Lloyd) and deep vocal trumpet.

Ortiz’ compositions, The Maestro and Orbiting, provide the pyrotechnics. Orbiting could almost be a Kenny Wheeler melody, but without the elegiac feel. It starts with an infectious bass/piano heavy riff, with some fab drum ‘n’ bass energy from the US’ Rudy Royston (last heard with Bill Frisell). The trumpet solo starts with a bang, then un-builds, with tender crooning notes over the wild rhythm section. Like Osby, Ortiz never plays the obvious notes in his solos, and his piano tone is drier here, and less legato. Sometimes a repeated riff can be too restrictive behind a drum solo, but Royston plays against it with huge fretful energy- then just as you think he might explode, everything dissolves.

The Maestro concludes the album, interspersing staccato phrases with smooth harmony lines and skittish percussion. Osby’s solo is mesmerising, savvy and beautiful over swing. Royston rarely states the time obviously, but by some alchemy creates a strong groove. Ortiz’ piano solo recalls Xenakis in its firecracker complexity and intensity. All the musicians are maestros on this superb album, recorded at a sold out gig. In Osby’s words, it has the ‘reckless, relentless, curious spirit’ of jazz.

The group also has a tour which sees them at:

Alt Jazz Club, Istanbul, Turkey, November 2nd, 3rd and 4th
Jazz at Camera, Weisbaden, Germany, November 5th and 6th
St George’s, Bristol, November 8th
Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton, November 9th
Purcell Room, Southbank Centre (part of LJF), November 10th
Hare and Hounds, Birmingham, November 11th

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