Picks and Pans Review: Strut
All too often fusion music distills the worst of the two genres that it is founded on, alternating jazz's predilection for dry posturing with the self-impressed mugging of pop. For most of Strut, Ruiz and his octet avoid those sand traps.
The album opens with a jaunty reading of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder." The horn section—trumpet player Lew Soloff, trombonist Dick Griffin and saxophonist Sam Rivers—march through the tune with their heads thrown back like one of those little scamps in a Maurice Sendak drawing. Ruiz's funky song "Goin' Back to New Orleans" gives him room for some robust piano solos out of the Ramsey Lewis songbook. It is on this song's Latin coda and the salsafied jazz of "Bluz" that the band's percussion section, Robby Ameen, Steve Berrios and all-timer Mongo Santamaria, gets to come out and play rough. Despite the efforts of the boys on brass and drums to tether the second side of Strut to earth, it floats away as Ruiz's playing gets more airy and guitarist Rodney Jones stretches out. Jazz fans may in fact prefer the second side's more traditional mood, but the first side, anyone can love. (Novus/RCA)