Dr. Adrian Ruiz is a busy man. Between serving as Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, his freelance work as a jazz trumpeter, and his continued dedication to The Adrian Ruiz Quintet, finding time to put together an album of originals of this high caliber must not have been an easy task.
Album release shows are a significant moment in any musician’s career, but this one was exceptionally important as it was a homecoming of sorts. While Ruiz is based in and around the San Antonio/Austin area, his schedule rarely allows him hometown gigs as much as I’m sure he would like. On this night, however, the audience seemed to be a veritable mix of old friends, Ruiz’s starry-eyed jazz studies students and local jazz aficionados. Being that this was an album release party for his new record Premiere: A Collection of Originals, the scene was warm and accessible, without a hint of pretension in the air (which, let’s be honest, isn’t the case at many jazz clubs).
Ruiz opened with the stunner ‘Elvinism’, a track based around drummer Daniel Dufour’s take on Elvin Jones’ dynamic style of mambo-influenced drumming. Between Dufour’s robust drumming and the dual attack of Del Bosque at tenor sax and Ruiz at trumpet on ‘Elvinism’ and subsequent tune ‘The Desert’, one could easily close their eyes and be transported to many of the most storied Blue Note quintet recordings from the 1960’s. This isn’t new territory for Ruiz’s quintet, as much of their repertoire is rooted in those landmark Blue Note recordings.
But Ruiz and Co. are not by any means stuck in the past. Don’t lump them in with the Neo-Bop class or sound (or “warmed over turkey” as Miles Davis called it). Throughout the set, the Adrian Ruiz Quintet effortlessly traversed the diverse subgenres of the jazz landscape with ease and precision. ‘Glas’, with it’s compositional overtones of pianist Robert Glasper’s (and more specifically the Robert Glasper Experiment) fusion of hip-hop, neo-soul and modern jazz, came across as both authentic and refreshing, playing tribute to Glasper while maintaining it’s own unique sonic quality. ‘The Mountains of Tennessee’ and ‘Breathe’ had just as much in common with Americana as they did with jazz. ‘As of Yet’, is a gorgeous ballad that demanded the attention of the room so much so that even the bartenders made a noticeable effort to keep the noise down to a minimum to facilitate the appreciation of the beauty of the track.
As enjoyable and remarkable as the tracks and the performance as a whole was, I found that Ruiz’s democratic approach to songwriting may be his biggest asset. Ruiz is undeniably a monumental trumpet player and a stand-out composer, but the quintet really shines due to the fact that this record and this performance is comprised of tracks written by each of the band members. A common phrase heard in jazz reviews is that the bandleader had a “command over his band.” Ruiz is a born leader, but he also understands and appreciates the power in merging diverse (and sometimes contrasting) players and composers, and letting them shine in their own unique ways. Ruiz’s disciplined loosening of control over his band members has given way to an outstanding band and sound that, taken as a whole, isn’t being replicated by anyone on the jazz scene today.
As gratifying as the music that night was, some of my favorite moments of the performance were simply observing Ruiz react to his bandmates playing. When Ruiz would finish a solo, he would step off stage and intently watch each one of his band members. This was not done in a scrutinizing manner, but rather in the form of active appreciation and awe, from someone who very clearly absolutely loves what he does for a living, and who he is doing it with.
The Adrian Ruiz Quintet
Adrian Ruiz: Trumpet, Composition
Gil Del Bosque: Tenor Saxophone, Composition
Collin Shook: Piano, Composition
Sam Pankey: Bass, Composition
Daniel Dufour: Drums, Composition
Premiere: A Collection of Originals is out now on Ziurga Records. You can find exurpts of the album and links to purchase it at Ruiz’s website.