Aruan Ortiz Live at Bread & Salt

Mesmerizing performance by NYC pianist at Logan Heights' Bread & Salt

Cuban born, Brooklyn-based pianist Aruan Ortiz made his San Diego debut on Sunday night, performing a bracing solo set for concert promoter Bonnie Wright’s Fresh Sound series before a large gathering at Bread & Salt, the Logan Heights multi-arts complex on Julian Avenue.

Before he began, Ortiz stood before the crowd and announced in a very soft voice that his music drew upon a myriad of elements, much like a “caldosa” or Cuban stew.

He then began teasing notes from the farthest reach of his left-hand at the house piano, very quietly organizing a sonic structure one brick at a time, forcing the listener to lean forward as he auditioned the resonance of the space, activating choice overtones that rang in the rafters of the high ceilinged industrial warehouse. These details were only discernable because of the pindrop quiet of the room and the rapt attention of the audience who seemed to wholly embrace Ortiz’s tension-filled single-mindedness.

His second improvisation widened the dynamic and harmonic landscape, shifting suddenly into jagged flurries in the right-hand with ponderous thunder in the left as he stabbed, jostled and caressed the instrument with sweeping flourishes and stuttered arpeggios, eventually climaxing with rolling fist clusters and selective basso profondo which seemed to indicate that trouble was just around the corner. Shifting scenes again, Ortiz reached inside the instrument to pluck groups of strings while keeping his foot on the sustain pedal -- creating wafting clouds of reverberant textures that strained against the thud of a single hammered tone. Ortiz released a series of effusive notes that practically cascaded from his fingertips and at one point, he might have been channeling late-period Jarrett as his disassociative left hand clanged atonally against a melodically ebullient right.

For the next piece, Ortiz chose “Arabesques of a Geometical Rose,” from his latest record “Hidden Voices.” Again he began with inside-the-piano sustain pedal textures against a loping bass line, continuing with muted pizzicato and tapping the frame of the instrument like a conga. He kept a pervasive sense of mystery at the heart of his exploration as each motif inched forward bathed in space.

For the finale, the pianist returned to a wholly improvised context, carefully adjusting very dissonant clusters in a sequence that initially seemed to suggest a flirtation with Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan.” Throughout the evening, Ortiz demonstrated a very keen sense of structure, even in the most ostensibly “free” sections, yet he also avoided the temptation to allay tensions with convenient resolutions like the plague. There were definite cinematic implications all through this last piece, suggesting perhaps, the eternal struggle between order and anarchy.

Another fabulous evening of thought-provoking music brought to San Diego by Bonnie Wright.

 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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