The gifted pianist-composer-arranger Aruán Ortiz, a native of Santiago de Cuba, showcases different aspects of his abundant musicality on these two disparate releases. The folkloric Santiarican Blues Suite , originally written for the ballet Pagan or Not and performed by the José Mateo Ballet Theatre in Cuba, is a stirring confluence of Spanish, French, Afro-Haitian and contemporary classical styles. Each of the five movements represents a different Afro-Cuban style, extending from those dating to the arrival of Haitian immigrants to Cuba at the turn of the 19th century to more modern applications of Haitian-influenced music.
The journey begins with the dramatic “Diaspora,” which opens with Cuban master percussionist Mauricio Herrera playing a slow, deliberate cadence on timpani against a darkly dissonant swirl of three violins, viola, cello and flute. As the piece picks up steam against the turbulent strings, Herrera introduces the tumba francesa rhythmic form that underscores much of this music. The heady “P’al Monte” incorporates folkloric vocals and dance rhythms alongside some rather intricate string arrangements that have more to do with Stravinsky, Bartók and Bernard Herrmann than Afro-Haitian traditions. The processional “San Pascual Bailón” features flute, strings and percussion weaving an interlocking pattern, while the melancholy “Sagrado” is a slowly developing number inspired by the classic Cuban song “Perla Marina.” The final movement of Ortiz’s contemporary classical masterwork, the 11-minute “Jubilee/Comparsa,” is a microcosm of the entire journey and contains some of the strongest polyrhythmic percussion jams on the album.
Orbiting has Ortiz stretching out in a modern jazz quartet setting featuring guitarist David Gilmore and the highly interactive rhythm tandem of bassist Rashaan Carter and drummer Eric McPherson. Along with potent Ortiz originals like the dramatic rubato piece “Numbers,” the dynamic “The Heir,” the hauntingly beautiful, balladic “Green City” and the rhythmically charged title track-all no less intricate or demanding than his classical writing-the cracklingly intense group tackles Charlie Parker’s chops-busting “KoKo” and Ornette Coleman’s “W.R.U.” with a mix of reverence and audacious, freeboppish playfulness. They also turn in a startling rendition of Hermeto Pascoal’s “Ginga Carioca” that has Ortiz and Gilmore navigating challenging, odd-intervallic unison lines in remarkably tight fashion as McPherson underscores the proceedings with an uncannily melodic touch. And their eerie minor-key interpretation of “Alone Together” is permeated with the dark foreboding of a requiem for Edward Gorey. These two simultaneous releases herald the arrival of a major new talent.