Pianist, Composer, Otmaro Ruiz in his musical journey, offers all the right cues for his Sojourn being so apt to document, because even though it gets somewhat personal at times, it is one that is memorable for anyone interested in taking the journey with him. The Chambers Dictionary describes the word “sojourn” as “a temporary residence or stay, as of one in a foreign land.” 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 piece is a wonderful way to express himself—at least for now. The care with which Otmaro Ruiz 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 to Africa and then swinging back in a wide arc, to the USA—through a remarkable version of a Broadway classic and some pretty memorable work in a remake of the Leonard Bernstein song, “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—this one with the musician’s two-year-old daughter. Then the branching 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 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 and “Living Pictures” beautifully captures a wide swath of rhythmic territory, from Samba to Maracatú to Capoeira to Afoxé and much more in a rich mélange of ideas couched in harmony as well. “Prelude to Life” and “Road Stories” are two tracks that go a long way into establishing Otmaro Ruiz’s reputation as a composer of epic songs. The former, written as a tribute to tenor saxophonist, Michael Brecker is memorable. The late musician also played EWI (electronic wind instrument) replaced her, ever so cleverly by the bassoon.
And then there is the horn player, Ben Wendel who has an “old soul” charm and brings considerable charm and erudition to this project. His repertoire 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 also reasons why this record will remain in memory for a long time.
Track Listing: 1. And Then She Smiles (Maya’s Song); 2. Claveao; 3. In The Shadows; 4. Tobago Road; 5. Nube Negra; 6. Until Tomorrow; 7. Living Pictures; 8. Prelude to Life; 9. Somewhere; 10. Easy to Say; 11. The Simple Life; 12. Road Stories.
Personnel: Otmaro Ruiz: piano, Fender Rhodes, additional keyboards, percussion and vocals; Ben Wendel: tenor and soprano saxophones, bassoon; Carlos Del Puerto Jr.: acoustic bass; Jimmy Branly: drums.