Essência | by Russell Ferrante
Essência is a joyful romp through the musical landscape of the Americas guided by master pianist Otmaro Ruiz and exciting new guitar virtuoso, Bruno Mangueira. Their musical partnership is informed by their Venezuelan and Brazilian heritages fused with their deep love and understanding of American jazz and the European classical tradition.
Otmaro and Bruno flawlessly navigate this landscape with a program of eight original compositions and two standards. Each song feels like a suite, taking us through a wide range of dynamics and emotional territory. Impressively, their original compositions sound like they could be standards. They evoke the timeless feeling of classic songs by Tom Jobim, Hermeto Pascual, and other Brazilian masters while maintaining the vibrancy of the present. There are hints of Bach, Chopin, and lush harmonic passages that will send music theory students racing for their notepads.
I love the program’s intelligent balance of composition and improvisation. In the Brazilian tradition, one might expect the balance to be weighted toward composition and in jazz, toward improvisation. Essência has managed to marry the two in a cohesive and natural way. The song construction is airtight while the performances and improvisations take us for a wild and exciting ride. Neither Otmaro nor Bruno shy away from taking chances. The gorgeous yet sometimes unexpected harmonies are constantly shifting and it takes a skilled improviser to make their way through this treacherous terrain and arrive safely on the other side. Otmaro and Bruno are our able guides.
Duo playing demands an extraordinary level of musicianship. Every note, every gesture is exposed. The musicians must breathe together and have an almost telepathic connection. Each player must fully grasp the entirety of each piece, as their constantly shifting roles require them to alternately supply melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic support for one another. It’s a daring high wire partnership calling for empathy and a deep commitment to the music and to one another. Otmaro and Bruno embody these qualities throughout. Essência celebrates the joy of two master musicians as they explore the essence of their beloved musical traditions in this intimate setting and guide us to new landscapes and new possibilities.
— Russell Ferrante, August 2019