Latin jazz great’s stay nears end

Hilton Ruiz, one of the finest pianists in Afro-Cuban jazz and Latin jazz since the 1970s, is nearing the end of his weeklong residency at the Half Note Jazz Club in Athens with three performances remaining – tonight through Thursday. Ruiz, who is fronting a trio comprising Babatude Lee on drums and percussion and Leon Dorsey on bass for his current shows in Greece, recently performed at the Athens jazz venue as a member of Chico Freeman’s combo. The New York-born Ruiz, who is of Puerto Rican descent, emerged as a child prodigy, appearing at Carnegie Hall when he was 8. Though maintaining his stature as a true Afro-Cuban bop piano great, Ruiz has been able to blend his ability, expertise, and background in Latin-flavored music and jazz into a distinctive style of his own. After gaining early experience playing with Joe Newman, Frank Foster and Freddie Hubbard, Ruiz went on to record with a series of jazz greats. Studio collaborations have included recordings with Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Betty Carter, Clark Terry and Chico Freeman. In the 1970s, Ruiz formed a rigid and fruitful partnership with winds player Rahsaan Roland Kirk. For his part in the collaboration, Ruiz injected a distinctive personal touch by injecting Latin elements, such as samba and soca, to classic jazz standards. This interest in fusion became even more apparent the following decade when Ruiz began heading his own groups. The pianist has mostly led his own groups since the early 1980s with an overall aim of developing Latin-jazz fusion. But Ruiz’s debut album, «Piano Man,» an acclaimed work released in the mid-1970s, preceded Ruiz’s role as a band leader. To date, Ruiz has released close to 20 albums of critically acclaimed work, including 1992’s «Manhattan Mambo,» «Heroes» a year later, lauded early work such as «Steppin’ Into Beats» and «New York Hilton,» both of which were released in 1977, as well as the more recent «Hands on Percussion» in 1994.