‘Brighter Days’ from the Juan Ortiz

CRU Records is a new label based in Barcelona and they launch with the release of Brighter Days from Bilbao-born pianist Juan Ortiz. This digital album consists of eight tracks, seven of which are written by Ortiz, played by a piano led trio and is released 3rd June, 2022.

I think that ‘Blues For The Queen’ has a touch of Thelonious about it and I like it.  The support from bass and drums is pitched just right and the solo from Takase is a fine example on how to make each note count. Gene Jackson does not overplay his solo section and, therefore, gets a nod of appreciation from me. ‘Song For Anthea’ has a brighter, more upbeat feel than the opening track and works well in this piano led trio. The piano, drum trade section is great fun with the bass adding a touch of resonance that rounds out the sound produced.

‘Song For Selene (I’ll Meet You In My Dreams)’ is a nicely toned down ensemble number with deft touches from the pianist when the bass player takes their solo. Gene Jackson plays understated drum patterns to match the mood created by Juan Ortiz at the piano. The next number, ‘Xoro’ is an uplifting Latin number that certainly got my toes tapping. The melody is full of a vibrancy that lifts the spirits and the accompanying rhythms from drums and bass fit the atmosphere created perfectly – a joyful piece of writing from Juan Ortiz.

The tone changes down for ‘Christmas in Bilbao’ with its late evening jazz feel. This tune has a laid-back flavour that I admire. Hiroshi Takase takes another very good solo spot with, again, just the right interjection and accompaniment from Juan Ortiz at the piano. The beauty of this piece is in the space given to the notes being played, nothing is rushed, with the resulting sound being allowed to hang in the air. ‘Capsule’, on the other hand, comes in with purpose and energy. The tune opens with the strongly plucked bass of Takase before the piano and drums take on the spirit of the number as it opens out with percussive piano runs and matching drum patterns. The drum solo manages to maintain the tune’s central theme without over-extending its reach and creating a disjoint in this strong composition.

‘Brighter Days’ is the last of the Ortiz written pieces and is built around a repeating phrase that very quickly gets into the mind of the listener. This is a good piano trio number with a touch of funk about it. The tune is bright, crisply played and fun to listen to – if this were a live performance review, I would say that this is a good first set closing tune. Cliff Burwell’s ‘Sweet Lorraine’ is the final track on Brighter Days and, despite its age (first published in 1928), fits in well with the rest of the album. This is an enjoyable, unfussy, moderately paced blues number with a light swing played solo by pianist Juan Ortiz and finishes off the album very nicely indeed!

This is my first time of hearing the music of Juan Ortiz and there is a stylistic familiarity to the compositions that I like. Whilst the tunes, bar one, are new they are firmly rooted in the tradition of the piano led jazz trio and I see absolutely nothing wrong in that. CRU Records have made an interesting choice for a label’s debut release, and I really do hope that the mix of fresh tunes and familiar trio jazz styling attracts the right level of attention. I am more than happy to now have this album in my collection, and I shall follow-up this review by checking out other releases from pianist Juan Ortiz.

Musicians: Juan Ortiz – piano; Hiroshi Takase – bass; Gene Jackson – drums.

Tracklist: 1. Blues For The Queen. 2. Song For Athena. 3. Song For Selene (I’ll Meet You In My Dreams). 4. Xoro. 5. Christmas In Bilbao. 6. Capsule. 7. Brighter Days. 8. Sweet Lorraine.

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