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Aruán Ortiz Quartet: Orbiting

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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.

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