Bill Ortiz :: Highest Wish :: Left Angle Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Highest Wish] True believers, when last we left you our hero Bill Ortiz was trying to survive a cold and desolate "Winter In America." Despite the perils he faced on his journey, the jazz/hip-hop fusion artist used the warmth of California rappers like Zumbi and The Grouch to survive the storm and emerge largely unscathed. His success fueled a desire to aim for a higher goal than a mere Extended Player - Ortiz wanted to bring forth a new LP unto this once harsh and unfriendly environment. This is no mere fleeting fancy for the jazz trumpeter renowned for his work with everyone from Souls of Mischief to Santana - this is in fact his "Highest Wish." And if you didn't catch the EP, fear not true believer, he's brought The Grouch back for a repeat performance:

"Well if were to rain now, would we get a cleansing?
America is strange - we keep pretending
that it's not winter, we aren't sinners, there's no ending
We don't make a mess and we're merely just defending
Let's get to mending the peace sign; vanishing, our dreams
So it seems in how we are sending
We must crack the concrete - and get organic with the soil
Turn turmoil into graciousness compost as waste
Just get real with ourselves
Money won't do it, we gotta deal with ourselves"

For many of you this concept will not be new, as the late great Keith Elam preached the gospel of "Jazzmatazz" for many years both inside and outside of his collaborations with DJ Premier. It's a fairly natural combination given the soulful urban roots of both artforms, which makes it all the more surprising some musicians like fellow jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis have such a scathingly negative view of hip-hop music and culture. Thankfully Ortiz has a more enlightened view, which allows for his natural musical collaborations on "Highest Wish." There are exhibitions to be sure, trumpet solos extraordinaire like the whimsical "Don't Make Me Wait," and sultry hot duets like the Red Velvet Remix of "Word Play" featuring Cait La Dee, but it's with Cali rappers like Casual on "We Are What We Are" that we see the most progressive and forward thinking attitude of each man.

"When I was young, I was very insecure
Whenever I heard laughter, I thought it was about me
There was somethin that I seen in myself
that made me have a hard time being myself
I was immature, now in the years after
No man can doubt me [...]
No image, just a vivid imagination
Try not to be a living exaggeration
This world that we live in, consists
of people just like yourself so start giving
I done travelled the Earth, seen beautiful things
Abnormal, unusual things
But under God's son I'm blessed like you
I don't dress like you but I'm just like you"

It's hard to fathom the hateful closed-mindedness of someone like Wynton when listening to the stirringly beautiful sentiments of Casual on this song, and how Ortiz seems to be saying the same things with his trumpet without a single word. These are powerful songs. From the sassy and brassy "Do Your Thing" with Tony Lindsay, which is a jazz version of sampling unto itself, to the somber and melancholic "Since You've Been Gone" featuring Lugman Frank, "Highest Wish" displays a powerful range of emotions with an equally powerful group of collaborators. It's hard to criticize Ortiz as a result, and yet I can't help but wish he had included just a few more rap artists on the full album, and that he had broadened his scope beyond California. I'd like to hear him collab' with Big K.R.I.T. or De La Soul and hear the results. Despite that I can find no serious flaws here and have to strongly recommend "Highest Wish" to jazz OR hip-hop heads.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: August 21st, 2012