August 27, 1990 12:00 PM

Hilton Ruiz

Working within the intimate confines of the quartet, trio and duet—even venturing one solo number—jazz pianist Ruiz has clarified his own swinging, Latin-tinged sound. Quite a feat, and one he managed without sacrificing the more full-bodied effects of his previous quintet and sextet recordings.

Gone are the horns, except for trumpeter Don Cherry, who provides an eerie, muted opener on Ruiz’s “Scottish Blues” and light-as-air accompaniment on the pianist’s “Misty Moods.” Bassist Ruben Rodriguez supplies the only electrified sound, plying a bluesy rhythm line on the cha-cha-inspired title track.

Rounding out the rhythm mix are contra-bassist Jimmy Rowser and percussionists Steve Berrios (who plays drums, timbales, guiro and claves) and Daniel Ponce.

Ruiz’s solo effort, a handsome reworking of the Rodgers and Hart standard “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” feels like the centerpiece of this eight-cut album. His manipulation of unusual chord combinations avidly courts but never dominates the melody. What comes through is Ruiz”s expressiveness, his ability to add feeling and color, and his relaxed mastery of the blues, bebop and Latin jazz piano traditions.

Now 38, Ruiz is an ex-student of piano great Mary Lou Williams. He later played with reedman Rahsaan Roland Kirk and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, among others. On this, his 12th album, he seems to have synthesized his wide-ranging influences, effectively concentrating and simplifying his lively talent as a pianist, leader and composer. (RCA/Novus)

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