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Ortiz's 'Hidden Voices' Mixes Cuban Strains With Modern Jazz

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Ortiz's 'Hidden Voices' Mixes Cuban Strains With Modern Jazz

Music Reviews

Ortiz's 'Hidden Voices' Mixes Cuban Strains With Modern Jazz

Ortiz's 'Hidden Voices' Mixes Cuban Strains With Modern Jazz

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Pianist Aruán Ortiz grew up in Cuba and lived in Spain a few years before moving to the US in 2002. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Ortiz's new trio music is fully bilingual.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has the review of a new recording by pianist Aruan Ortiz, who grew up in Cuba and lived in Spain a few years before moving to the U.S. in 2002. Musicians he's worked and recorded with since then include Esperanza Spalding, Wallace Roney, Greg Osby and Steve Turre. Kevin says Ortiz's new trio music is fully bilingual.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARUAN ORTIZ TRIO ALBUM, "HIDDEN VOICES")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Aruan Ortiz with a little typical misdirection. He starts like he's going to play a stately Cuban song, and then slowly everything slides a little sideways. That's Ortiz's new album "Hidden Voices" in a nutshell, with its offbeat recombinations of Cuban strains and modern jazz.

Those traditions have always been compatible, but there was a time when musicians from each stream could sound unsteady stepping into the other. Nowadays, there are many more musicians like Aruan Ortiz at home in both worlds.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARUAN ORTIZ TRIO ALBUM, "HIDDEN VOICES")

WHITEHEAD: Aruan Ortiz can play two-handed Cuban piano in the familiar driving style, but that's really not what he's about. In New York, he studied with pianist, composer and thinker Richard Abrams, who opened him to the idea of letting other arts inform his music.

Ortiz feels the sway of Cubism as well as Cuba. He tweeks old ideas. Cuban pianists improvise over fixed rhythmic cycles all the time - but not a stumbling, slow-motion 13-beat cycle.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARUAN ORTIZ TRIO ALBUM, "HIDDEN VOICES")

WHITEHEAD: Aruan Ortiz's partners on "Hidden Voices" are also resourceful players with a wide conceptual reach, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Gerald Cleaver. They can handle whatever the pianist serves up. In the middle of the action, they might disappear through a trapdoor and then sneak back in the window, like on a medley of two Ormette Coleman tunes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORNETTE COLEMAN MEDLEY PERFORMED BY ARUAN ORTIZ TRIO)

WHITEHEAD: Ornette Coleman's "Open Or Close" and "The Sphinx." Aruan Ortiz's trio also plays Thelonius Monk's "Skippy," a quiet free improvisation, and some more original tunes. But the pianist ends "Hidden Voices" with a sparse version of an old Cuban folk song, returning to his beginnings. Because no matter where in the world you end up and what you learn getting there, where you started out is always a big part of who you are.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARUAN ORTIZ TRIO ALBUM, "HIDDEN VOICES")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and TONEAudio and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Hidden Voices," the new recording by Cuban pianist Aruan Ortiz. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we talk about Donald Trump's track record as a businessman. He's never held elected office, but he describes himself as a great businessman who will make our economy sing again. We'll talk with Washington Post investigative reporter Robert O'Harrow about what he found investigating Trump's business practices. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Sheehan, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden and Thea Chaloner. I'm Terry Gross. We'll close with a recording by singer Ernestine Anderson, who died last Thursday. She was 87. This is her 1959 recording of "Stardust."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STARDUST")

ERNESTINE ANDERSON: (Singing) Sometimes I wonder why I spend the lonely night dreaming of a song. The melody haunts my reverie. And I am once again with you. When our love was new and each kiss an inspiration, oh, that was long ago.

Now my consolation is in the stardust of a song. Beside a garden wall when stars are bright, you were. A nightingale tells his fairytale of a paradise where roses grow. Though I dream in vain, in my heart it will remain. My stardust melody, the memory of love's refrain.

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