Aruan Ortiz – Cuban Nocturne – Newvelle Records NV011LP 180-gram stereo vinyl 37:01 ****1/2:

A beautiful tribute to Cuban classical music!

(Aruan Ortiz – piano)

Jazz pianist Elan Mehler had a different idea of marketing jazz in the modern era. While jazz sales are modest, aficionados are not reticent about purchasing albums in “hard format” especially vinyl. In an unprecedented move, the label initiated a limited basis, subscription-only service for vinyl. With releases from Jack DeJohnette, Noah Preminger, Leo Genovese, Frank Kimbrough, Ben Allison and Don Friedman, the expanded frontier of jazz marketing was underway.

Newvelle Records has released their subscription-based Season 2 set of high quality jazz. The artist on Season 2 include John Patitucci Trio (featuring Yotam Silberstein and Rogerio Boccato); Kevin Hayes and Lionel louse Trio; Jon Cowherd Quartet (featuring Steve Cardenas, Tony Scherr and Brian Blade); Chris Tordini Trio (featuring Becca Stevens and Greg Ruggiero); Aruan Ortiz; and the F Rufus Reid Trio (With Steve Allee and Duduka Da Fonseca (featuring the Sirius Quartet. As with season 1, Newvelle is promoting hi-quality 180-gram vinyl. One of the featured artists is Cuban pianist Aruan Ortiz. The history of Cuban piano music is voluminous including classical (including Ignacio Cervantes, Ernesto Lecuona) and jazz (Adolfo Guzman, Jose Curbelo)

Ortiz’s release for Newvelle (recorded at East Side Sound) is titled Cuban Nocturne. The opening title track is the theme from Ben Chace’s film Sin Alas (Without Wings). In trying to emulate the melancholic song that haunts the film’s main character, Ortiz creates a reverie-tinged nocturne (Generally classified as a single movement character piece for solo piano, composers like Chopin, Satie, Field, Debussy and Bartok explored this genre) that expresses these moods. The pianists lays down a Latin-infused tango rhythm with his left hand and a festive Caribbean groove with his right. With subtlety, there are chord changes and occasional dramatic accents. His uncanny ability to expand the music without overshadowing the core essence of the song construction is impressive. The first cover of a Cuban pianist is “Tres Lindas” (Antonio Maria Romeu). Ortiz captures the lively dance hall orquesta vibe of Romeu. There is an interplay of popular and sophistication, like a funky version of Gershwin or Porter (and perhaps a tiny excerpt of a  Russian-based speed riff on “Chopstick Waltz”?).

Moving on to Catalan, Frederic Mompou’s eerie abstract, “Musica Callada” is intriguing. After a single note, barely discernible pulse, Ortiz adds a steady left hand, with restrained notation on the right. The utilization of dissonance is genuine to late period Mompou. In the first of three interpretations of Ignacio Cervantes, “Picotazos” (from the 8 Danzas Cubano), is memorable. This piece is graceful and also employs a dance-like tempo. Again, Ortiz adds to the play with abbreviated riffs (The Fighting Cock Attacks). It is complicated and pays homage to a true Cuban patriot.

Photo by Joshua Kleinman

Side B opens with another “Interlude”. Here, the tightly constructed brief piece (1:18) seems like a minimalist etude. There is a slight variation that makes this stand out. The next selection (“Danza Negra”) is from the legendary composer Ernesto Leucona. Like Gershwin, Leucona’s ability to take indigenous music and elevate it to classical status is unique. This danza has a cohesive bass groove that transfixes the listener. The melodic phrasings have innate rythmic phrasing and swaying cadence. There are breaks that are ragtime-esque in their elocution. There is a simplicity, yet an accessible mesh of buoyancy and mood. This joyous accessibility can be heard on Cervantes” “Los Tres Golpes”. it maintains structure and has a populist appeal. Ortiz’ abbreviated version of Cervantes’ “Ilusiones Perdidas” is evocative and performed with waltz elegance and sentiment.

Cuban Nocturne is both a testament to Aruan Ortiz’s musicianship, and a historical tribute to Cuban classical music. The vinyl recording is excellent. The piano is mic’d to capture the percussive and tender piano tonality. There are no distortions or rumbling. The liner notes by Elan Mehler are incisive and the gatefold packaging is superior. It includes beautiful photography by Tendance Floue. It would appear that the current subscription series for Newvelle is an artistic success. And a third one is underway!  

Side A: Cuban Nocturne (Theme From Sin Alas); Tres Lindas; Musica Callada; Picotazos
Side B: Interlude; Danza Negra; Los Tres Golpes; Interlude 2; Ilusiones Perdidas

—Robbie Gerson