This is Ortega's second release on the Hat label (the first being a 1992 reissue of New Dance, recorded in 1966-67). More conservative than much of the product on the label, the instant recording features the saxophonist leading a pared down trio performing mostly standards with pianist Mike Wofford and drummer Joe LaBarbera. Ortega has a sort of split personality, one that feels as comfortable with bop and hard bop as it does with free-style improvisation. His takes of "Body and Soul," "Alone Together," "What's New," and others reveal a player with a deep sense of the jazz tradition, but one who is not shackled to the past. Ortega's fluid lines stretch the melodies slightly and make them his own without distorting their underlying essence. Wofford and LaBarbera keep things in line, but the string bass-less trio provides enough harmonic freedom to permit the saxophonist to wander adventurously over the backing. A technically superior performer, Ortega deserves wider exposure than he has received, and this album may help him to gain the accolades he deserves.
Scattered Clouds Review
by Steve Loewy