Too often, solo-piano recordings feel like a larger statement stripped of its largeness; the pianist follows the same rules that would’ve applied had other musicians been present. Cub(an)ism from Aruán Ortiz could not have been made with accompanists. Like the visual art with which its title toys, the music here is frequently dismantled and restated in befuddling ways, all dissociated shapes and angles tumbling and rearranging as something else. The aha moments on these 10 new compositions and improvisations—the pianist’s first solo outing since his 1996 debut, Impresión Tropical—tend to occur as the whole is considered, even if the components seem unmoored or ill-fitting. Ortiz’s unanticipated, on-the-fly thematic shifts make for quite a joyride; he follows his whims and muses with an ear toward what’s ahead, trusting that the listener will eventually catch up. There’s a fullness and richness to his executions, an aching to—as the Cubists did—make us rethink context.
The Cuban influence itself is less overt than one might expect, given the title and Ortiz’s pedigree. A native of the island, he has always made a point of drawing direct lines to his homeland. Here, even on the Baroque-esque marathon showpiece “Cuban Cubism,” and the considerably shorter but no less audacious “Sacred Chronology” and “Monochrome (Yubá),” Ortiz recasts the raw materials of his art in his own image. It’s pretty thrilling stuff.