“Cutouts” by Juan Manuel Ruiz is a collection of 11 deeply moving solo piano pieces. There is a gentle musical poetry to the music that is both inviting and thought-provoking. Each track is like a story – or a cutout if you will – that instantly connects with the listener. Even though there are some limitations to the recording itself, the quality of the compositions more than make up for it. Indeed, it might serve as a reminder that something is “lost in the translation” when listening to ultra-high fidelity recordings. “Cutouts”, on the other hand, is a brilliant performance in every sense of the word.
Juan Manuel Ruiz has been a fan of New age music and solo piano for many years. He studies piano at the Darezzo School, where he has been learning the instrument’s secrets for years. In 2018 he released his debut album “Will”, an album with 13 songs for piano with orchestral arrangements. His most recent album, “Cutouts”, contains 10 original songs and ends with a performance of Nocturne op 9 No 2 by Chopin.
The title track starts somewhat hesitantly. Suddenly though, the rhythm and flow are all in place, and the melody starts to form. And wow, Ruiz truly has piano magic in store for us! “Cutouts” is a gorgeous piece. Dynamic and hard-hitting, Ruiz paints pictures of all those small, seemingly insignificant moments that life is made up of. “Cutouts” sets the bar incredibly high for the rest of the album. But don’t take my word for it; check it out yourself:
After this remarkable opening, “In My Dreams” gives time to reflect and let the mind wander. There is a delightful hint of melancholy here as if commenting on the very fabric of dreams; They seem so real, yet they are just a product of the imagination – hence the sadness. Ruiz captures both the dream itself and our wish that it would go on forever. “In My Dreams” is beautiful beyond words.
Shades of Colors
True to its name, “Shades of Colors” is a radiant and vibrant piece. The listener can sense that it is a fun melody to play, perfect for warming up. If you close your eyes, you can “see” the different colors and how their expression changes. “Lost in Your Smile” is very quiet. After the forceful “Shades of Colors”, I found myself cranking up the volume, not wanting to miss a single note. It is a stunning piece, easy to get lost in. The chords in the middle, and the passage that follows, are masterful.
The recording is, as mentioned above, a bit basic. That said, the distance between the piano and the microphone gives the impression of space – which underlines the feeling of witnessing an out-of-studio performance. After a year in Covid19 quarante
Guardians of the Memory
I guess you have understood by now that “Cutouts” is an album about remembrance and the attempt to make sense of it all. “Guardians of the Memory” is a delightful walk down memory lane. I like how it almost stops, then continues, as if commenting on how we in life faces crossroads and have to make up a decision. “Something to Wait” has a very nice buildup; I like how the intensity rises and ends in a well-made conclusion. The playful “Illusion Factory” has some nice twists and turns that you simply have to experience yourself.
Ruiz has saved some of the finest pieces for last. “Fata Morgana” has easily noticeable classical inspirations with a modern twist. It is one of the finest compositions on the album, so well-made that you almost think it is a, well, a mirage perhaps – a musical equivalent of a Fata Morgana. The bold-sounding “Disquieting Calm” is the last original on the album. The gentleness we felt early on the album is replaced by anxiety, perhaps even fear. Luckily, good old Chopin makes sure that the album ends on a positive note. Nocturne op 9 No 2 is performed with passion and a personal touch,
In conclusion: A hallmark of a great solo piano release is that you notice new details every time you listen to it. There are so many fascinating twists and turns to appreciate. That is true for the music of George Winston, David Lanz – and also “Cutouts” by Juan Manuel Ruiz. The title track, “Fata Morgana” and “Water Chains” are jewels in any playlist of high-quality solo piano music. There is an honesty and emotional depth to Ruiz’s material that is nothing short of phenomenal. The rather simplistic recording is a stark contrast to the quality of the compositions and the performances. But it doesn’t harm “Cutouts” one bit. That is the beauty of talent; it doesn’t require high fidelity to shine.
For more information and music samples, visit juanmanuelruiz.com