God knows, of course, how hands will be used. This is why he endowed the human body with them, especially those bodies bestowed upon pianist Aruán Ortiz and bassist Michael Janisch, as well as those of alto saxophonist Greg Osby, trumpeter Raynald Colom and the magnificent drummer Rudy Royston. And in their bodies a deep soul also abides in a spirit so sinewy and strong that they have become, with the short passage of time, significant musical artists. There is ample evidence of this on the proverbial smash hit album entitled, Banned in London. What an ironic title. If the reason why it must be “banned” is because of the energy is palpable and atomic throughout the festival performance, then let it be said that such vigorous creativity and vital innovation is so dangerous that it might cause heart and mind to explode. This is no ordinary music where fission is the order of each chart when, it seems, the protons and neutrons of the dialect of jazz collide and explode in the soli of alto saxophone and trumpet and drums and piano, and of course, beginning with the bass of co-leader, Michael Janisch.
It is the elemental urgency of the action of fingers on the taut and marvellously tuned strings of the acoustic bass herald the sound of music in the aptly entitled “Precisely Now”. Here Michael Janisch has created the music of “now”—that is music in the immediacy of the present. His brilliant pizzicato opening: curling notes ensconced in but a few chords that stretch their musical tentacles around the melody which follows force the mighty linear message to aim its lyrical arrows deep into the heart. Mr. Janisch is articulate in his muscular opening and what follows his challenge to dig deep is as mighty a response to his consonant and dissonant overture. Of course, this is the Michael Janisch that is heard throughout the record, pushing the drummer and the pianist to throw down gauntlets to the other soloists. Mr. Colom and Mr. Osby respond with a slow burning fire. The saxophonist sizzles through several choruses egging the trumpeter to turn up the heat when his turn comes to solo. There is no time to be pretty. These are musicians upon whom machismo is thrust and who flaunt this with musical relevance and with overt sensuality.
The art of building a group sound is crafted in the ability to make relevant musical statements and to preach the lyrical and proverbial word fervently and, above all, to listen to one another when the burn is on; or when the ache is felt or when joy is expressed and of course when the blues is sung. This Ortiz-Janisch ensemble seems practiced in that art… that is “preaching” the musical gospel and “listening” to its word just as well. This exquisite element is heard in the “singing” and wailing screams of Mr. Colom’s trumpet that issues notes which probe the air of gentility with fierce energy. In fact through the plunging of his hot valves, Mr. Colom calls upon the ancestral tree of trumpeters to adorn his notes that charge back and forth between future perspectives and those of the past, which continue to point the way. All the time, Mr. Osby has been silent he is actually “listening” to Mr. Colom’s sermon. And then he bursts forth issuing alto strictures that only fall dormant when the song ends. This is awakened again when the saxophonist is charged with introducing “Fats” Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz”. The mad energy of that song, was once made classic, after Mr. Waller, by the great Eric Dolphy together with Woody Shaw. This rendition, however, is mean achievement. Coming after that act, Mr. Osby and Mr. Colom slide into what a 60s aficionado would easily call a “far out” jam.
Few great musicians have drunk from the proverbial waters of Cuban apartheid than its pianists and Aruán Ortiz is one of the finest of these species. His technique is sublime. He expresses himself as few do—with the mind of a renaissance man, born of Beethoven and Mozart as much as he is with the tangential elegance and cracked angularity of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols melodicism too. For Mr. Ortiz is as much a creator of soli where the blitzkrieg of a thundering bass-line melody resides. His jack-knifing solo on “Jitterbug Waltz” and his drunken meanderings of “Ask Me Now” are only a part of the fare that he serves up at the Pizza Express Jazz Club where this record was made. And he carries on that breathless creativity throughout his two great compositions: “Orbiting” and “The Maestro”—songs that are, together, homage to the whole history of the music from Peruchin and Emilio Salvador as much as Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk and a pantheon of gods that came before him. The mad quizzicality of the melodies and gloriously coloured harmonies will enable the songs to endure through many incarnations and by many artistes as well.
No review could be complete without singing a song for Rudy Royston. This is a drummer who embodies the passion of music in every shape and form. In fact Mr. Royston can hardly be called a drummer and left at that, for he is an artist who admits melody and harmony into the living membranes of his sticks and skins. Listening carefully it may be possible to hear the chords he plays with a mere two drumheads. Mr. Royston is made entirely of music: plain and simple. He hears things in four dimensions—that spectral, fourth one pushes his polyrhythmic brain into overdrive throughout this magnificent album.
Banned in London contains some of the finest to be captured on a live album and ought to rank with the likes of Jazz at Massey Hall and John Coltrane—Live in Seattle for the seemingly endless stream of creativity from a group for all ages.
Tracks: Precisely Now; Jitterbug Waltz; Orbiting; Ask Me Now; The Maestro.
Personnel: Aruán Ortiz: piano; Greg Osby: alto saxophone; Raynald Colom: trumpet; Michael Janisch: acoustic bass; Rudy Royston: drums.
Aruán Ortiz & Michael Janisch Quintet on the Web: www.aomjquintet.com
Label: Whirlwind Records | Release date: November 2012
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama