Otmaro Ruiz Quartet at Jazz Live

Pianist Otmaro Ruiz highlights deep, original content

Venezuela-born, Los Angeles-based pianist Otmaro Ruiz starred in the latest Jazz Live concert on Oct. 12 at San Diego City College's Saville Theatre, fronting a quartet featuring Ana Barrreiro on drums, Sezin Ahmet Turkmenoglu on double bass and Larry Koonse on guitar.

Barriero began the evening with an extended, virtuosic drum solo, leading the band into “Not An Exit,” a start/stop modal original that had a kind of “Eye of the Hurricane” type vibe, with heavy emphasis on the interaction between Koonse and Ruiz. Ruiz’s solo began slowly, building in organic fashion until he arrived at a stream of uninterrupted eighth notes and a dramatic vamp once again involving the drummer.

Next up was an infectious bolero, “Obsession,” featuring a fleet and logical bass solo from Turkmenoglu and a dense series of baroque ornamentations from Ruiz, who seemed to channel both Chick Corea and Oscar Peterson, while Barreiro kept everything moving with a symphony of clicks and rimshots.

Barreiro was a constant source of joy the entire evening with a very clear and precise ride cymbal sound, illustrating the rhythmic motifs of “And Then She Smiles” with beautiful detail. Koonse began “The Simple Life” a cappella, with shimmering finger-style chords that led into a riveting solo out of the John Abercrombie tradition, where notes fell like soft rain on the Saville Theatre stage.

Koonse continued to ignite sparks on the Ruiz original, “Living Pictures,” with a burning essay before handing the baton back to the composer, whose ultra-melodic ingenuity brought Richie Beirach and Lyle Mays to mind.

Ruiz closed the evening with “Road Stories,” blending a tricky ostinato in support of deftly handled piano/guitar unisons and a feeling of a slowly decelerating tempo.  

There aren’t many better ways to spend a Tuesday night than checking out Jazz Live at the Saville Theatre. The next opportunity comes on Tuesday, Nov. 8, which might be just the ticket for music lovers weary from the American political circus.

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter @robertbushjazz. Visit The World According to Rob.

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