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Album Review: Cutouts
Juan Manuel Ruiz
Cover image of the album Cutouts by Juan Manuel Ruiz
Juan Manuel Ruiz
2020 / Juan Manuel Ruiz
49 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Cutouts is the second album from Spanish composer/pianist Juan Manuel Ruiz following his 2018 debut, Will, which was more orchestrated. Cutouts is a collection of ten original piano solos composed in 2019 and 2020 plus Chopin’s famous and much-loved “Nocturne Op. 9 #2.” Some of the original pieces on Cutouts were composed during the COVID-19 “confinement” in Spain and reflect on a variety of moods and experiences. The album was self-produced, but the sound quality of the piano is quite good and Ruiz’s music is melodic and very expressive.

Cutouts begins with the title track, a descriptive piece that weaves together several themes to tell its story. There is really nice video that goes with this piece that alternates between overhead views of Ruiz playing the piano and beautiful photography of a variety of settings in nature and beyond. “In My Dreams” is a favorite with its graceful melody and gently-flowing rhythm. Some sections are wistful and full of longing while others are a bit bolder - just like dreams! “Shades of Colors” is bright and more vibrant with a quick swirling motion. Slowing the tempo considerably while expressing deep emotion, “Lost In Your Smile” is a tender love song (without words) and another favorite. “Guardians of the Memory” seems to be telling a bright and colorful story by way of a series of musical vignettes that work together seamlessly. I didn’t know what or who “Fata Morgana” referred to, so I looked it up. It refers to a mirage that is usually associated with the ocean, but it also refers to “Morgan the Fairy,” a sorceress of medieval legends and the sister of King Arthur. She is sometimes portrayed as the ruler of the island paradise of Avalon and had a number of magical powers that she often used to cause trouble. I suspect that the piece with that title refers to the fairy, as she is musically depicted as powerful but not necessarily a trouble-maker. “Water Chains” is as mysterious as its title. It begins with a very still, open introductory section before a flowing left hand pattern enters to support the beautiful, melancholy melody. A few passages suggest sparkles dancing on the surface of water and others are very calm and peaceful - I really like this one, too! My favorite track on the album is “Disquieting Calm.” The piece combines a gentle broken chord pattern on the left hand with a darker, more intense right hand. If you focus on the left hand, it’s very relaxed and soothing, but if you focus on the right hand, it’s quite turbulent - a fascinating effect! The album closes with Ruiz’s performance of the Chopin “Nocturne” - a lovely ending!

Cutouts is a great introduction to the music of Juan Manuel Ruiz and is available from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and Spotify. There are several music videos on his YouTube station as well.
December 29, 2020
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