Aruán Ortiz piano, voice and composition | Don Byron Bb clarinet, Eb clarinet, Bass clarinet and voice | Pheeroan akLaff drums and voice | Lester St. Louis cello (1, 2, 4, 5, 6) | Yves Dhar cello (3, 7) | Mtume Gant spoken word (track 1 ,4, 6)
“Aruán Ortiz weaves multiple strands of tradition through his music, with an endgame of deep mystification…he has been a creative force at least since the release ofhis debut album.”
Nate Chinen, New York Times
“In Ortiz’s music, one can hear how the pianist makes connections, looking, thinking and seeing, as well as playing.”
John Ephland, DownBeat
“Cuban-born pianist and composer Aruán Ortiz is constantly evolving, experimenting and injecting new elements into his craft…Ortiz is an exceptional composer with aspecial talent for surrounding himself with gifted and empathetic colleagues.”
Karl Ackermann, All About Jazz
60 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his signature “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. The content, structure and power of King’s words serve as a fundamental inspiration for Pastor’s Paradox, the stirring new album by Cuban-born, Brooklyn-based pianist, composer and conceptualist Aruán Ortiz. Due October 20, 2023 on Clean Feed Records, the album features a stellar lineup of players including clarinetist Don Byron, cellists Lester St. Louis and Yves Dhar,drummer Pheeroan akLaff, and spoken word artist Mtume Gant.
Pastor’s Paradox shares many of King’s themes, including racial equality, but also reflects Ortiz’s singular artistry. To write his enthralling suite, Ortiz studied King’s Biblical and world history references, the speech’s construction, and the pacing and vocal dynamics that give King’s words such power and momentum. “’I Have a Dream’ is one of the masterpieces in the history of speeches,” says Ortiz. “I studied that speech from different angles, particularly his use of analogies and how he integrated different aspects of literature into his message. It’s amazing when you analyze its structure.” In addition to studying the structure, analogies and literary references of the “I Have a Dream” speech, Ortiz delved into King’s 1968 speech “The Drum Major Instinct,” delivered five years after the March on Washington and two months before King’s assassination, as his pursuit of racial socio-economic justice became more radical and he spoke out against the Vietnam War.
The new album comes as Ortiz celebrates his 50th birthday year, and just seven months after the release of his acclaimed Serranías: Sketchbook for Piano Trio on Intakt Records. With bassist Brad Jones and drummer John Betsch, Ortiz mined influences from his native Cuba including toques, rumba and Afro-Haitian music, commingling them with modern jazz and European art music. In a four-star review in All About Jazz, Dan McClenaghan writes, “the pianistic Picasso paints with an array of colors that runs from dark blues to light greys, stirring up turbulence and ominous atmosphere…shafts of light beaming through…the Ortiz edginess.”
That edginess, always emerging from deep wells of intellect and humanity, is also present on Pastor’s Paradox, the conception of which was also fueled by King’s complexity and the turbulence of his times. “He was very revolutionary for his time,” says Ortiz, “fighting for not only racial equality for Black America but also for women’s rights and Latino rights oftentimes against a very turbulent backdrop.” Says John Murph in the liner notes, “Throughout Pastor’s Paradox, the band depicts the turbulence and cacophonous sounds of police brutality, loud sirens, and searing cries and wails of the 1960’s civil rights movement.”
The recording opens with the tumultuous “Autumn of Freedom,” anchored in riveting power by Gant’s imposing fragments of the “I Have a Dream” speech. The title track follows, dominated by Byron’s silky, roaming bass clarinet navigating above the band’s penetrating accompaniment. The foreboding cello opening of “Turning the Cheek No More” leads into a piece that Murph says “superbly evokes the violence many civil rights marchers encountered and the simmering doubt of the nonviolence stance of those who had been brutalized, or worse, lost loved ones in the struggle.”
“The Dream That Wasn’t Meant to Be Ours” brings Gant’s voice back for a potent exploration of the interaction between ego and the desire to do good. Ortiz’s fluid, expressive piano guides “From Montgomery to Memphis,” a harrowing depiction of the dangerous treks of civil rights marchers along Southern roads. “An Interval of Hope” begins with tentative cymbals and drumbeats, echoing the challenge and necessity of hope in the face of tragedy and injustice. “No Justice No Peace, Legacy!” closes the album with a definitive musical climax conveyed through band members’ instruments as well as their voices exclaiming the words of the track’s title a rhythmically and emotionally complex combination of exultation, weariness and absolute determination.
Pastor’s Paradox began with a single composition commissioned by a 2020 Jazz Coalition Grant, the year mass protest broke out after the murder of George Floyd, a killing which followed a series of other high-profile slayings of unarmed Black Americans. As the nation reckoned, and continues to reckon, with systemic racism
and violence decades after the historic March on Washington, King’s evolving and enduring words and legacy became the fitting focal point for Ortiz’s project, which grew into a five-part suite with support from the South Arts Foundation, premiering in Dallas in 2021 with Byron, St. Louis and akLaff. Ortiz expanded the suite into a
seven-song cycle for the album, adding cellist Dhar and spoken word artist Gant.
With Pastor’s Paradox, Ortiz has created a 21st-century chamber jazz work that brilliantly and seamlessly connects the past, present and future, honoring Dr. King’s astonishing gifts of oratory and the contributions and sacrifices made by him and scores of other civil rights advocates. Magnificently crafted, it’s a searing work of
art and yet another important addition to Ortiz’s growing oeuvre.
Pianist, violist, and composer Aruán Ortiz – born in Santiago de Cuba, and a resident of Brooklyn – is an active figure in the progressive jazz and avant-garde scene. Named “one of the most creative and original composers in the world” (Lynn René Bayley, The Art Music Lounge), he has written music for jazz ensembles, orchestras, dance companies, chamber groups, and feature films, incorporating influences from contemporary classical music, Cuban Haitian rhythms, and avant-garde improvisation. In his work, Ortiz consistently strives to break stylistic musical boundaries. Ortiz has played, toured, or recorded with jazz luminaries such as Wadada Leo Smith, Don Byron, Greg Osby, Wallace Roney, Nicole Mitchell, Cameron Brown, Michael Formanek, William Parker, Adam Rudolph, Andrew Cyrille, Henry Grimes, Marshall Allen, Hamiet Bluiett, Oliver Lake, Rufus Reid, Graham Haynes, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Nasheet Waits. He has also collaborated with choreographers José Mateo, Danis Mora, and Milena Zullo; filmmakers Ben Chace, Mariona Lloreta, and Mónica Rovira; poet Abiodun Oyewole from The Last Poets; writer/poet/filmmaker Mtume Gant; DJ Logic and Val Jeanty Inc.; and renowned German writers Angelika Hentschel and Anna Breitenbach. A Doris Duke Impact Award winner, Ortiz also performed on esperanza spalding’s trio debut album. Ortiz’s work consolidates intense research and development on specific themes related to architectural patterns and information drawn from non-musical contexts. Inspired by Afro-Haitian traditions and how those traditions can be expressed through multiple genres, Aruán’s music channels his sound through avant-garde and progressive jazz, serial music, and contemporary classical language, focusing on decentralized roles and multiple themes and interacting collectively in ways similar to a string quartet. With more than a dozen albums as a leader and several more as a sideman, Ortiz has built an acclaimed body of work that continues to expand, evolve and embrace his adventurous artistic spirit.
All compositions and lyrics written by Aruán Ortiz, except the text in “Autumn of Freedom (opening)” extracted from Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream,” speech, August 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington, DC and “The dream that wasn’t meant to be ours” from The Drum Major Instinct,” sermon, February 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA.
Recorded at the GB Juke Joint Recording Studios in NYC, on February 15th and April 8th, 2022 | Engineers Glen Forrest and Colin Mohnacs | Mixed at Diametric Music by Liberty Ellman | Mastered at Turtletone Studios by Michael Fossenkemper
Produced by Aruán Ortiz | Executive production by Pedro Costa for Trem Azul | Photos by Holger Thoss | Design by Travassos