Orbiting, the latest record from the Aruán Ortiz Quartet, finds the Cuban pianist and composer moving through the concept of storytelling without stopping. The record is interesting in that it allows each musician the time and space to tell a story, but it doesn’t simply set aside a series of gaps to fill with sound.
On some level, Orbiting presents a challenge in structure. Its deliberations of “decentralizing functional form based on resolutions of molded phrases” could serve to alienate some listeners, but the ultimate swing and keen flexibility saves the day from sinking into the all-too-frequently-visited dominion of pretentious bewilderment.
For Ortiz, Orbiting is about expanding – and learning as one grows. The solos are placed in service of this, delivering more than one side of the musical conversation while still maintaining service of the larger piece and the album’s larger arc.
Ortiz’s quartet features guitarist David Gilmore, bassist Rashaan Carter and drummer Eric McPherson. The group is ideal for taking on the pianist’s complex visions. They elegantly sway through Ortiz’s melding of classical music themes with traditional jazz vibes and Afro-Cuban fragments.
Ortiz, influenced all the way from the likes of Bud Powell, Andrew Hill and Muhal Richard Abrams, is very much in command of Orbiting, but he knows when to step back and let someone else speak. It is his contributions to the album’s larger sense of balance that really helps the music swing with life and dignity.
Whether digging into pieces like “Ginga Carioca,” with its lovely declarations of melody and harmony, or tunes like the Bill Evans-inspired title track, Ortiz’s methods are apparent and elegantly designed.
There is also “The Heir,” a piece dedicated to Ortiz’s son. This is a song about growth and the music reflects that unknown path life takes us on, whether we like it or not. It is punctuated by McPherson’s beautifully intensive drum rolls and Carter’s eloquent but unpredictable lines.
“Alone Together” closes out the program. The standard has a haunting, melancholic presence that tiptoes through a bolero feel.
With Orbiting, Ortiz and his outfit signify a statement of complex intent. This isn’t straightforward jazz; it is a compilation of conversational marvels. It isn’t as difficult as it sounds, but it also requires some consideration and time to let the words and phrases really sink in where they belong.