During his quartet's concert at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater on Friday night, pianist Hilton Ruiz recalled how honored he felt to be invited to perform at the prestigious venue. No one could accuse him of wasting the opportunity.
A compact man with an expansive jazz reach, Ruiz laced original tunes and standards with a series of bold contrasts. He juxtaposed resounding, motionless chords and whisking single-note runs, pitted dancing Afro-Caribbean rhythms against an unbridled swing pulse, and sometimes capped complex, elegantly articulated choruses with blunt exclamations by hammering his elbows or forearms onto the keyboard.
His imaginative take on John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice," just one of the evening's pleasures, was as muscular as it was musical, and made all the more so by alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, bassist Ruben Rodriguez and drummer Adam Cruz. The ensemble has developed an interplay, with Rodriguez sometimes emphasizing funk influences and Cruz sometimes evoking the crackling sound of timbales.
Still, Ruiz clearly saw the concert as a chance to showcase Hart's talent. A devotee of Cannonball Adderley, Hart effortlessly conjured a soul jazz mood on Ruiz's "Home Cooking." Yet the Baltimore-born reedman's finest moment came when he introduced Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" with a long and elegant cadenza before finally ascending into the regal theme and crafting a performance suffused with blues-tinged lyricism. The concert closed to a rousing standing ovation.
-- Mike Joyce