April 29, 2010
Something Else Reviews
These days, there’s very little in the way of positive vibes coming out of Venezuela to U.S., so to balance things out, I’m going to offer up one: Otmaro Ruiz.
Ruiz hails from Caracas, but his muse—not to mention his abilities on piano—brought him to the musically rich environs of Los Angeles as a young man. It wasn’t long before he was landing quality gigs playing for the likes of John McLaughlin, Tito Puente, Arturo Sandoval, John Patitucci, Frank Gambale, Peter Erskine, Charlie Haden, Robben Ford, Jon Anderson and the great Gino Vannelli. Noted jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves thought enough of his talents to not only make him her pianist, but her band’s musical director as well. As you can tell from the list of leading lights he’s performed with, Ruiz can do it all: jazz, rock, Afro-Cuban, fusion, and more.
Ruiz has also shown much ability as a composer and leader, and last year brought the release of Ruiz’s fifth album Sojourn. This is one Ruiz self-released about a year ago, and it’s been on my rotation for a while. But I can’t let this CD slip out of the playlist before making a few remarks about it, because still sounds fresh and listenable long past the point when most albums start to sound stale and boring.
Sojourn is one of those records that’s not quite jazz, not quite fusion. It’s too fluid and euphonic to pass for straight, improvisational jazz but too intelligent and complex to pass for smooth jazz. It’s like having your cake and none of the calories. What’s more, each song (all written, arranged and produced by Ruiz) is a new, distinct journey. His band’s setup also straddles the line between modern, electric jazz and a traditional, acoustic one: Ruiz’s piano is lightly supplemented by a Fender Rhodes and “additional keyboards” (read, synthesizers) that are tastefully employed well in the background, when they are called for at all. Meanwhile, Ben Wendel is put in charge of woodwinds, Carlos Del Puerto, Jr. the stand up bass and Jimmy Branly, drums and percussion.
All throughout these twelve songs, Ortiz deftly blends ear pleasing harmonies with sophisticated sonic structures. “And Then She Smiles (Maya’s Song),” named for his two-year-old daughter, has the wonderment and playful disposition of a child her age that disguises a tight, well-built melodic line. “Claveao’” is what Ruiz calls Afro-Cuban, and it is, but then again he throws in chord progressions and tempo changes that aren’t native to the form. He gives the same unique treatment to the nominally calypso tune “Tobago Road.” And yet, his hybrid treatment serves to bolster these tunes.
“In The Shadows (Sides Of Truth)” has a wandering, winsome melody like the kind the late Don Grolnick used to write. “Nube Negra” is a “sort-of” samba with a darker, sultry melody that’s captivating. “Living Pictures,” on the other hand, is jaunty and festive (and includes a hearty bass solo from Puerto). For “Easy To Say,” Ruiz mans the Rhodes for this light, Latin-flavored tune, a song that’s reminiscent of the first, Brazilian incarnation of Return To Forever. “Road Stories” has a strongly melodic bass/piano line that Chick Corea has long been fond of doing for his songs.
So much of jazz is hard to sink into for lots of people, but many get to appreciate its many turns, subtleties and surprises whenever an artist is clever enough to present these qualities while making the music pleasurable to listen to. Sojourn is one of those records. An after-the-fact addition to my 2009 Best-Of List for Mainstream and Modern Jazz. Or does it belong in the Fusion Jazz list? Either way, it’s one of the better of either to have come out last year.
January 11, 2010
SOJOURN / Otmaro Ruiz
By Raul D’Gama Rose for All About Jazz
The Chambers Dictionary describes the word “sojourn” as “a temporary residence or stay, as of one in a foreign land.” Pianist Otmaro Ruiz’s musical journey offers all the right cues for his Sojourn being so apt to document. Even though it gets somewhat personal at times, it is memorable for anyone interested in taking the journey with him. The obvious association of the word “Sojourn” is where all of Ruiz’s simplicity ends. He has a truly complex character, in the best possible sense of that (latter) word. More accurately—and stemming from his compositions to start with—he is a subtle musician. Naturally, this calls for a nuanced application of tonal color in his work.
Conceptually, the whole sojourn concept is a wonderful way to express himself, at least for now. The care with which he has arranged his expedition, right down to the order of the tracks, is proof enough of a great ear for the sounds of the “places” he visits musically. This spans distant lands, from the place of his birth, Venezuela, to Brazil, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean, and Africa. Then he swings back in a wide arc to the USA, through a remarkable version of a Broadway classic by Leonard Bernstein, “Somewhere” from West Side Story.
“And Then She Smiles (Maya’s Song)” establishes the deeply personal nature of some of this record. It is about relationships and bonding, in this case with the musician’s two-year-old daughter. Then he branches out to Cuba via Africa on “Claveao,” a track wonderfully underscored by Ruiz’s sense of Afro-clave, hidden in the melody of the piece. “In The Shadows” and “The Simple Life” have a nostalgic ring as the pianist traverses the landscape of Venezuela; the former in a striking merengue meter. There is much more than calypso in “Tobago Road,” as the musician promises. “Nube Negra” is a true fiesta.
“Easy to Say” pays fine tribute to the samba, and to the oeuvre of percussionist Airto Moreira. “Living Pictures” beautifully captures a wide swath of rhythmic territory, from samba to maracatú, capoeira to afoxé and much more, in a rich mélange of ideas couched in harmony. “Prelude to Life” and “Road Stories” are two tracks that go a long way toward establishing Ruiz’s reputation as a composer of epic song. The former, a tribute to the late tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, is memorable. Brecker had also played EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), replaced here ever so cleverly by the bassoon.
That brings us to the horn player, Ben Wendel, who has an “old soul” charm and brings considerable charm and erudition to this project. His range of expression on bassoon—on “The Simple Life” too—is not just rare, but simply remarkable as well. Bassist “Carlitos” Del Puerto and the self-effacing drummer, Jimmy Branly, are other reasons why this record will remain in memory for a long time.
Otmaro Ruiz – “Sojourn” (Minina Music)
By Alonzo Weston, Friday December 11, 2009 for St. Joseph News – Press (StJoeNews.Net)
TITLE: “Sojourn” (Minina Music)
ARTIST: Otmaro Ruiz
STARS: 4 Out of 5 Stars
SOUNDS LIKE: Lyrically complex but accessible and beautifully refreshing fusion jazz with rock, Afro- Cuban shadings.
“Sojourn” begins with pianist Otmaro Ruiz’s young daughter Maya giving the countdown in Spanish on “And Then She Smiles (Mayas’s Song).” It’s a beautifully composed tune that musical expresses childhood wonder though Ruiz’s hop scotch skipping piano solo and summery arrangement.
This sets the tone for a highly rewarding CD that traverses Afro-Cuban rock and straight ahead jazz motifs in a melodically exquisite setting. Each tune has a certain joyousness to it.
“Sojourn” is rhythmically complex and harmonically sophisticated yet highly accessible but not in a condescending, easy listening sort of way. It has a reflective travelogue feel similar to the moody New Agey type of jazz reminiscent of Pat Metheny.
One of the markings of a good jazz recording is that it reveals new subtleties with each listen. “Sojourn” has that quality. Each tune slowly blossoms revealing new musical beauties along the way.
Otmaro Ruiz “Sojourn” CD Review
By J. Hudson
Current mood: productive
The latest recording effort of Venezuelan composer and pianist extraordinaire, Otmaro Ruiz is entitled “Sojourn”. The word “Sojourn” means a “temporary stay” and it appears that Otmaro’s sojourn between CDs was well spent writing a collection of original compositions. This album is not just another exercise in self-indulgence by some artist who simply wishes to see where he can go to appease his own vision. His compositions are highly technical, full of mixed meters and syncopated Afro-Cuban polyrhythms. Ruiz renders a key sense of emotion to his music. Each song on this project possess enticing harmonies and each melody is nicely accentuated by each member’s distinct musical voice. Otmaro is destined to be a musician’s musician.
The Otmaro Ruiz quartet manifest themselves not only as masters of their instruments, but true architects of their jazz style. The other principals consist of percussion master Jimmy Branly, bassist Carlos Del Puerto Jr, and reedman Ben Wendel. Together they make a formidable quartet.
The first track , “And then She Smiles (Maya’s Song),” was inspired by his daughter and my personal favorite. Maya even counts off this 5/4 composition with its captivating melody. There could not have been a more appropriate tune to begin this CD. This odd metered tune is simply gorgeous. One can only wonder how Ruiz came up with such a lovely melody.
The beginning of the second track, “Claveo” is quite reminiscent of the fusion textures created by the group ” Weather Report “. One can’t help but appreciate the masterful percussion work of Jimmy Branly as he supports the syncopated bass line. This tune quickly turns into a vibrant Salsa/Samba. As usual Otmaro’s piano solo is outstanding as well as the sax solo, but what really blew me away was the knuckle busting intricate soli work between the sax and Ruiz’ piano. It exhibited the masterful technical dexterity held by both musicians.
On a technical and artistic level I think this CD is going to be loved by all jazz musicians. There is something on this album for every jazz musician which will challenge their skill level. To me transcribing an Otmaro Ruiz composition is like snatching the pebble from the master’s hand.
Enumerating all of the beauty in each composition would be like telling you the end of a good mystery. All I can say is if you are a fan of Michel Camillo, Chucho Valdez, or Chick Corea you will want to get this CD for your collection. Ruiz has solidified his place in Latin jazz and he’s here to stay. Don’t be surprised if you find his name on the short list for a grammy.
“Sojourn” is a beautiful collection of original compositions by Otmaro Ruiz and his quartet. I think its mass appeal will be widely recognized and respected for its technical acumen thus attracting more musicians than your average jazz aficionado. On the TJ scale of Appreciation, 4 quarter notes being best, I give Otmaro Ruiz for his latest CD, “Sojourn”: 3 quarter notes and one eighth note.
Otmaro Ruiz – SOJOURN
By Rotcod Zzaj
Here’s another Digital Download Review (DDR) from the promoter… we are very happy to be (finally) getting more & more of the music digitally… there was a time when “legitimate”‘ artists (especially players of the high calibre Venezuelan jazz pianist Otmaro Ruiz displays) couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be “bothered” with doing things digitally… 5 years back, that may have been OK, but with the technology ramped up the way it is these days, there’s no reason not to do it this way… anyway, on to the music – this is some of the best piano-led jazz I’ve heard in 2010. His fantastic piano & Rhodes are joined by Ben Wendel on tenor/soprano sax and bassoon, Carlos Del Puerto Jr. on acoustic bass and Jimmy Branly’s drums. While he (& the group) express themselves in decidedly Latino ways, “Sojourn” is clearly above the cut in it’s level of complexity and jazz achievement. Listen to the sample from “In The Shadows” and you’ll hear what I’m talking about immediately… total balance in the composition, but it’s still very accessible music… you’ll be reminded (in some ways) of Weather Report, but you’ll know by the time you complete this listen 2 or 3 times that you’re in the presence of very talented (and dedicated) players. The bass intro/lead-in on “Tobago Road” isn’t complicated at all, but sets the stage for a most memorable tune that will stick in your head for days (it’s at the top of my playlists right now, & will remain there for a long time to come, I’ve no doubt). The closeout track, “Road Stories” was my absolute favorite, though… most likely because it’s so energy intense and with everlasting qualities that every jazz listener will devour – I just loved this tune! An even dozen musical adventures that will have you thirsting for more… I give this my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, and an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96. Get more information at www.otmaroruiz.com Rotcod Zzaj
By Rudy Mangual for Latin Beat Magazine
Venezuelan native Otmaro Ruiz is one of the most sought-after session pianist/keyboardists based in Southern California. His resumé includes collaborations with Dianne Reeves, Justo Almario, Alex Acuña, Tito Puente, Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, John Patitucci, Charlie Haden, and Robben Ford, to name but a few. His canny virtuosity and versatility on his instrument, as well as in the fabrication of his compositions, make him a master musician at home in any style of music, from straight-ahead jazz to Latin, pop, fusion and rock. Aside from his extensive discography as a sideman and collaborator, Ruiz enjoys five productions as a leader, culminating on his newest release titled Sojourn. In the company of Jimmy Branly (drums), Carlos del Puerto Jr. (bass) and Ben Wendel (woodwinds), Ruiz takes on a repertoire of a dozen scores (including eleven Ruiz originals), which showcase his obvious musicality, as well as his evidente passion and respect for all styles of music. The quartet bares a phat-sound, creating unlimited equations of rhythms and forms, full of harmonic sophistication and melodic charm. Ruiz is superb on the piano and on the Fender Rhodes. Standouts include the selections Living Pictures, Road Stories, and Nube Negra. – Rudy Mangual
From JAZZ PROFILE Magazine
by Jay Matsueda
After literally nearly 10 years since his last cd of
original music, Otmaro wows us with all he has to say on his
latest 12-song quartet masterpiece entitled Sojourn. He
starts the record off in a singularly personal way with a
song dedicated to (and counted off in Spanish by) his
daughter Maya called “And Then She Smiles (Maya’s
Song).” The synchronous, melodic and relaxing lines in
this opening tune performed masterfully by Otmaro, Ben
Wendel, Carlitos Del Puerto and Jimmy Branley slowly and
carefully build until taking us back down to earth near the
end. Track 2 entitled “Claveao’” is described
as Otmaro’s “humble contribution to the world of
Afro-Cuban Jazz” and is but one exciting, fast example
of the complex and virtuosic playing characteristic of
Otmaro Ruiz. A pretty version of Leonard Berstein’s
“Somewhere” is included two-thirds in which starts
of with beautiful solo piano for nearly two minutes , and
the motion and color contained within
closing track entitled “Road Stories” really
does conjure images of being on the go and frantic. Hats off
to Otmaro for this wonderful work well worth the wait.
January 14, 2003
Ruiz’s lesson in Latin music is enlightening
By Don Heckman, Special to The Times
At the start of his performance Sunday at Tamayo Restaurant in East Los Angeles, pianist Otmaro Ruiz made a simple but vitally insightful statement. “Latin music,” he said, “is everything between Tijuana and the tip of South America. And it’s not all Tito Puente.”
Ruiz meant no disrespect for the great bandleader, but he was determined to establish a receptive environment for a program of music reaching from the U.S. to Cuba to
Venezuela, Brazil and beyond. And the most remarkable aspect of the program — the first jazz event in the 2002-03 Chamber Music in Historic Sites season — was the
enthusiastic manner in which the overflow crowd responded to the sometimes thorny works presented by his quartet.
The Venezuela-born Ruiz offered, with one or two exceptions, a program of originals, including several new pieces. Styles included the onda nueva of his own country,transforming the original style’s 6/8 rhythm to a brisk jazz groove, a recasting of the Bahian rhythms in a number by Egberto Gismonti, the tropical sounds of Ruiz’s “Tobago Road” and a stirring piece in which the rhythm gradually accelerated into a daunting up-tempo.
The challenges of this array of sounds and rhythms were superbly handled by Ruiz, saxophonist-flutist Gary Meek, drummer Aaron Serfaty and bassist John Belzaguy. Further enhancing the afternoon concert, the music was presented in the hacienda-style setting of Tamayo, surrounded by the colorful paintings of the restaurant’s famous namesake. By the time the program concluded, Ruiz had demonstrated, in thoroughly entertaining fashion, the accuracy of his belief in the far-reaching panorama of Latin music in general, and Latin jazz in particular.
March 20, 2001
Pianist Ruiz Adds Venezuelan Rhythms
By Don Heckman, Special to The Times
Venezuelan jazz pianist Otmaro Ruiz has been living in the United States since 1989. But, although his dossier includes performances with everyone from Steve Winwood and Gino Vanelli to Dianne Reeves and Arturo Sandoval, he has never abandoned the connection with his musical roots.
On Sunday afternoon, in a Da Camera Society Chamber Music in Historic Sites concert, Ruiz led a quartet in a program that offered a remarkably successful blending of jazz with Venezuelan rhythms.Performing in an ocean-facing room at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey, Ruiz apologized several times for the potential hazards of the jet lag he was experiencing, having just flown in from the East Coast. But the technical aspects of his performance left nothing to be desired. True, the program started with what might best be described as an overly polite quality, the notes all in the right places, but rendered with only a modest level of fire and spirit.
That all changed a few numbers into the program, when Ruiz and tenor saxophonist-flutist Gary Meek began to engage each other, and the improvisational flames were turned up. A piece titled “Las Tres Marias,” based upon a traditional Venezuelan rhythm of 5/8, was a stunning example–a superb blend of musical synthesis between Ruiz’s brilliant soloing and the foundation of drummer Aaron Serfaty (also Venezuelan) and bassist Chris Colangelo.
Another original, “Not an Exit,” was equally impressive, its rapid-fire line–reminiscent in some passages of the Lee Konitz-Warne Marsh partnerships of the ’50s–was executed with stunning force by Ruiz and Meek. And the Venezuelan folk melody “Suelto y Difrazao” revealed yet another example of Ruiz’s capacity to empathetically blend two seemingly disparate musical forms. Then, just to quiet the potential reservations of any jazz police in the crowd (there could hardly have been many), the group moved into a gorgeous, sensuously laid-back version of the classic standard, “Body and Soul.” Meek found his own path through the chord changes that have challenged every tenor player since the classic Coleman Hawkins version, and Ruiz’s set of variations was once again the work of an inspired musical imagination. At its best, the performance of the Ruiz ensemble turned out to be the sort of event that defines the best of what the Da Camera series is all about–chamber music, jazz in this case, that challenges the intellect, delivered with a passion and intensity to trigger the emotions.
ALTERNATE MUSIC PRESS
(MMP Maki Music-50032 ) cd 1997
Virtuosity and emotional intensity characterize the Latino flavored jazz of 35 year old Venezuelan pianist Otmaro Ruiz. He uses his piano to tell a kaleidoscope of stories always demonstrating a depth of human sensitivity.
On one hand his compositions are lyrical and poetic. On the other, they are captivating, infectious and very exciting. The way Otmaro Ruiz plays piano is unique, his personal signature is on every note he plays. On Distant Friends, Otmaro is joined by some of the greatest names in contemporary jazz. The album features Peter Erskine on drums, Alex Acuna on drums and percussion, John Pena on electric bass, Dave Carpenter on acoustic bass, Ernie Watts on tenor sax, Justo Almario on soprano and tenor, and Pedro Eustache on flute and cuatro. The keyboardist perfectly captures all the fire and beauty of Latin American rhythms in this collection of seven outstanding compositions. When a group of musicians such as this reach a thorough understanding of their instruments, the result is a straight forward form of expression that’s free from unnecessary show boating. As you listen to the album, it slowly reveals a prodigious stylistic range and musical connection that resonates with the unguarded spontaneity of live performance. The album kicks off with the lively “Suelto Y Difrazao” in which John Pena’s bass compliments Ruiz’s crisp, clean riffs with responses by turn staccato and fluid. The level of energy continues with the beautiful title cut, “Distant Friends”.
Ernie Watts really shines with his superb tenor sax throughout this later day fusion of Brazilian influences and Weather Report flavored arrangements. Indeed, Wayne Shorter could even take some pointers from the amazing solos that Otmaro and Ernie trade back and forth. “Juego De Toque” bears a strong resemblance to the stylistic chops of Chick Corea, but much more interplay happens between the piano, and the sweet soprano solo provided by Justo Almario. Next,”El Primero” gives the listener a change of pace. It is a beautiful ballad, perfectly augmented by the deftly articulate acoustic bass of Dave Carpenter. “Beat by Beat” continues in the ballad tradition with Justo, Pedro, and Gilbert Castellanos adding a trio of wonderful horn accompaniment to Dave’s upright, and the compelling piano of Ruiz. “Astoria’s Princess” dedicated to Otmaro’s sister Orlena, features some great ensemble playing and it’s subtle shading is always well punctuated by Otmaro shifting in out out of time changes with ease and grace as the song slowly builds in intensity. The finale, “Criollisima” brings to mind the 60’s collaborations of Stan Getz, and Antionio Carlos Jobim in the first 12 bars, but then swings into high gear. The musical conversation between Otmaro and Justo Almario on soprano, and Pedro and Gilbert on flute and flugelhorn is a real standout.
With this deftly articulated collection, Ruiz and his band have given the world a musical treat to savor . Highly recommended listening! information : email: firstname.lastname@example.org URL: http://www.mmpmoo.com
THE HEART OF THINGS
LIVE IN PARIS
by Walter Kolosky
This is the album John and Verve should have released first. Yes, the debut Heart of Things studio effort was good. But in all facets it is humbled by this live effort which it seems Verve has taken its sweet time releasing. (At the time of this writing the album, although recorded two years previous, is still not available in the U.S.). Initial listening did not provide an overwhelmed vibe. It was disappointing that the live cover of “Jazz Jungle” was not on the recording. In addition, although the tunes from the first album are enjoyable, it would have been more pleasing to hear either new material or tunes covered which had not been heard in a while. The only new composition on the album is “Tony”, a tribute to Tony Williams. Seven Sisters, Fallen Angels and Acid Jazz all make a return visit from the debut album.
Mother Tongues, an old JM Trio stalwart, and Gary Thomas’ The Divide round out the set. A second visit to the album brought an entirely new appreciation not had a mere 24 hours previous. A lot of McLaughlin’s music seems to have this affect on people. Suddenly, the ring-modulated guitar, which had annoyed somewhat in the few areas in which it was employed, was now the absolute right choice! There is a vamp which leads into a blistering show-ending duel with drummer Dennis Chambers during Acid Jazz, which could only aspects of its character etched from the ring-modulator. As usual, Chambers shines and his solo on Tony, is powerful and yet melodic drumming. The essence of a heartfelt tribute to Tony is palpable. Matt Garrison provides the bottom and not too few bass flourishes for the band to stand on. (Garrison is especially up front on Mother Tongues). Otmaro Ruiz takes over for Jim Beard on keyboards and synthes.. Ruiz shines. This is especially so on a furious call and response passage during Mother Tongues. He also adds a beautiful piano intro to Tony. Gary Thomas on Sax is an enigma. I can’t tell whether he is average or a genius. I do like his playing on this album and the composition he contributes, The Divide, provides fodder for all of the musicians to let loose. Victor Williams adds his percussion shadings to enhance the overall sound. And finally, what can you say about JM? To think the guitar you are hearing is coming from somebody on the cusp of 60 years old is confounding. The compositions are strong. The band is powerful and tight. The crowd adds to the ambiance. Although some more new material would have been helpful, all in all, this is a very pleasing and refreshing high energy outing from the Heart of Things. (Don’t ask me to explain why The Heart of Things can be refreshing and possess a dark and foreboding quality at the same time. Just don’t.)