Aruán Ortiz Trio feat. Eric Revis + Gerald Cleaver – Hidden Voices (2016)

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When I soak in the advanced, modern jazz of the Aruán Ortiz Trio’s new release Hidden Voices, I think of a pianist who is “an artist well-versed in the intricacies of advanced jazz.” Further, I conclude that “his cagey compositions leverage his intimate knowledge of the way Cuban jazz integrates percussion and melody so well, but without ever explicitly aping Cuban jazz.” Which are just the things I liked about Ortiz’s music when sizing up his 2010 release Alameda.

So what is different about Hidden Voices that sets it apart? The most obvious reason is that this time, he’s got the premiere talents of Eric Revis (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) at his disposal. On philosophical level, Ortiz chooses this occasion to present ‘Cuban Cubism,’ which takes his unique treatment of the rich Cuban music of his homeland further into vanguard of jazz.

‘Cubism’ originally meant to describe a type of visual art, of “which amalgamated viewpoints of natural forms into a multifaceted surface of geometrical planes.” But in calling his music ‘cubism,’ Ortiz is regarding audio art as a different manifestation of the same kind of art. And that is particularly helpful to sorting out the complexities of these songs.

Certainly, the angular forms associated with cubism can be found on “Fractal Sketches,” which deftly combines dissonance and a little chaos with order. Cleaver maneuvers through the composed and freer parts, integral to making it all work. Another deft combination comes on Ortiz’s mashup of two Ornette Coleman songs, “Open & Close” with “The Sphinx,” creating from the former tune’s three-note figure while punching in the riff from “Open & Close” at seemingly random spots.

His Cuban roots come a little more forward for “Caribbean Vortex/Hidden Voices” but strictly on his own terms. Caribbean percussion played a with minimal, street corner vibe, his piano and Revis’ bass come crashing in, Ortiz then introduces a set of repeating figures, ending in different chords, before settling into a groove that’s suggestive of — but not explicitly — Afro-Cuban.

“Arabesques of a Geometrical Rose” is presented in two shades: “Spring” is Ortiz alone playing in an avant-classical style, while “Summer” employs the full trio, playing around a descending, dark figure as Ortiz plays fractured, sharp lines, getting increasingly muscular with block chords before coming to a soft landing.

The three musicians take on Monk with a very loose and free reading of “Skippy,” and somehow they shoehorn the song’s theme amid all the chaos. They stagger through it, but they stagger together in perfect unison. And Ortiz ends unexpectedly with a traditional Cuban song, “Uno, dos y tres, que paso más chévere” performed on piano only with spare abstraction.

Ultimately, the ‘Cuban Cubism’ concept that Aruán Ortiz explores on Hidden Voices is a tool to take improvisation to a new place. It’s something he tries to do for all of his albums, and while the tactics might be altered for each time out, his sophisticated, ultra-modern style of composing, arranging and improvising emerges each time.

Hidden Voices drops on January 29, 2016 through Intakt Records

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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