If there's one thing associated with Caribbean music, it's rhythm. After all, the islands (and the continental areas surrounding them) were among the first New World colonies to adopt the styles of Africa. Pianist Hilton Ruiz may have grown up in Manhattan, but the 49-year old keeps a stockpile of island rhythms at his fingertips.
Having a Panamanian percussionist (Renato Thoms) and a Venezuelan drummer (Marlon Simon) on Enchantment certainly doesn't hurt when it comes to keeping time. The title track has a very unusual mix of Brazilian and Cuban styles, for example. Thoms' congas bubble up in all sorts of unexpected ways, blending tastefully with Ruiz's rather percussive playing and the light swaying patter of Simon's kit. Check the cha-cha on "Sweet Cherry Pie" or the boogaloo on "Home Cookin'" for a couple more examples of rich drum texture.
The other aspect of time that marks Ruiz's playing on Enchantment is the way he treats it as an extension of breath. Jazz musicians usually superimpose a certain amount of give and take with the beat, swinging freely or lending over emotion to a bluesy feel. This pianist takes the jam into elastic triplet territory on his composition "I'll Call You Later," one of a couple pieces to feature vibrant tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman, and it works quite well.
But on the four solo pieces bracketed in the middle of the record, it becomes clear that a metronomic sense does not belong. "Gemini," which touches on a Tynerish chord density, heads along an undulating flow, alternating the pace of each phrase to yield a feeling not unlike inhalation and exhalation. Similar rise-and-fall dynamics appear in the next tune, as well as down the road in the soulful blues of "My Little Brown Book" and the tender balladic softness of "Silhouette." These four solo pieces take advantage of the freedom allowed Ruiz when the rest of his group sits out.
Ruiz is on or about his 20th record as a leader, and Enchantment is by all means a worthy addition to the oeuvre. The sidemen on the record perform above and beyond the call, but Ruiz himself is the reason to check this record out. He may not insist on dramatic technique or chase after stylistic innovation, but that's not the point here. As far as keeping time a very human way, Ruiz is right there at the top.
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Track Listing: 1. Seven Steps to Heaven (2:11);
2. Enchantment (7:12);
3. I'll Call You Later (4:29);
4. Sweet Cherry Pie (6:46);
5. Gemini (4:56);
6. Black Narcissus (6:08);
7. Shades of Thelonius (4:08);
8. My Little Brown Book (3:39);
9. Silhouette (5:04);
10. Goodbye (3:14);
11. Home Cookin' (3:29);
12. The Business Ain't Nothing But the Blues (4:43)
Personnel: Hilton Ruiz: piano;
Lisle Atkinson: bass;
Renato Thoms: percussion, conga;
Marlon Simon: drums.
Special guest: Chico Freeman: tenor saxophone.