Live review

Aruán Ortiz at the Stone NYC

Aruán Ortiz
(The Stone, NYC. 13 November 2019. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

Aruán Ortiz has lots of interests – Cuban folklore, serial and chamber music, acoustic representations of pattern and architecture.

Aruán Ortiz (Publicity photo)

With all of this possible during his week-long residency at the Stone, Ortiz can be something of a wild card. On Wednesday, the second night, we were treated to a set of Cubist views on an unusual trio; a continuous thread of permutations of alto/piano/drums, swapping through moods and the finite combinations of instruments.

Each of the players – Ortiz on piano, Ches Smith on drums and Darius Jones on alto saxophone hold three roles – as lead, support and absent. But lead and support are fairly meaningless terms in a trio whose players seem to run on their own independent internal power sources, with seemingly telepathic, if any, communication. It may be best instead to consider them as three different settings – exuberant, lethargic, and watching.

They all launch together abruptly, but quickly drop back, with piano and drums supporting the sax as Jones gingerly picks over the soundscape. Much of the first period is set like this, with drums following piano: where Ortiz scuttles, Smith also scuttles, where Ortiz smashes, Smith also smashes.

The meat is when Ortiz builds his supporting energy, and the alto saxophone is let loose, building to a huffing, squealing climax. Jones really finesses the sound over time, developing a chordal, tonal squeal, like a tuneful lobster dying a long dramatic death in the pot.

The trio’s real success is when it keeps it simple – a supporting piano, looping and repeating, builds close textural lines beneath. And Ortiz is always able to bring in extra power with the left, and the gravitas of a stepping bass (a bass conspicuously absent) beneath the clean, whistling calm of the saxophone, and boom of malletted toms.

At the end, the drums have grown from Smith resonating them like a wine glass to a full stomping kit exploration, and we’ve been taken through an atmospheric continuum, a double-peaked journey rising and falling to end tired after a busy overwhelming growing mess. And then, as quietly and politely as the set was introduced by Ortiz, it is closed with a thank you and a good night.

Categories: Live review

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