Aruán Ortiz: Pastor’s Paradox

Inspired by Martin Luther King and with a band including Don Byron and Pheeroan akLaff, Ortiz leads a set of turbulent, atonal political art


Aruán Ortiz’s album, inspired by the words of Martin Luther King, features the stellar crew of clarinettist Don Byron, cellists Lester St. Louis and Yves Dhar, drummer Pheeroan akLaff and spoken word artist Mtume Gant.

The project began with a commission by Jazz Coalition Grant in 2020, when mass protest broke out after the murder of George Floyd. With support from the South Arts Foundation, the work developed into a five-part suite, premiering in Dallas in 2021 with Byron, St. Louis and akLaff. For the album Ortiz expanded the suite into a seven-song cycle, adding Dhar and Gant.

The Cuban-born, Brooklyn-based pianist studied the structure and literary references of two speeches by King, “I Have A Dream” and “The Drum Major Instinct,” delivered five years after the March on Washington and two months before his assassination. By 1968, his pursuit of racial socio-economic justice was more radical, and he was speaking out against the Vietnam War.

The recording opens with the tumultuous Autumn Of Freedom, anchored by Gant’s imposing fragments of the Dream speech, which impart a hip-hop awareness. Ortiz’s expressive piano guides From Montgomery To Memphis, a harrowing portrayal of civil rights marchers along southern roads. Gant appears on The Dream That Wasn’t Meant To Be Ours, and No Justice, No Peace Legacy! The instrumental tracks – particularly From Montgomery To Memphis – show Byron and Ortiz’s exploratory approach.

As the liner notes comment, the album portrays the turbulence and cacophony of police brutality, and the cries of the demonstrators. It’s a 21st-century chamber-jazz classic – bold, ambitious and searching political art.

Autumn Of Freedom; Pastor’s Paradox; Turning The Other Cheek No More; The Dream That Wasn’t Meant To Be Ours; From Montgomery To Memphis (To April 4th); An Interval Of Hope; No Justice, No Peace, Legacy! (36.30)
Ortiz (p); Don Byron (cl); Lester St. Louis, Yves Dhar (clo); Pheeroan akLaff (d); Mtume Gant (spoken word). New York City, 15 February and 8 April 2022.
Clean Feed Records CF648CD