Sidelined from engaging in their usual breakneck schedules, the pandemic lockdown had an unpredictable, dizzying effect on the creative flow of in demand musicians and artists. Where it could have been stifling, others like multi-instrumentalist Mark Ortwein chose to take their downtime and turn it into an unexpectedly fruitful foundation for a solo recording career.
An Air Force Band veteran, his mile long international resume includes playing everywhere from Carnegie Hall and the Grand Ole Opry to MTV, playing with jazz and R&B groups, orchestras, chamber ensembles – even performing and recording with John Williams. The title of Ortwein’s dazzlingly played and dizzyingly eclectic debut It Was Time refers first to the recent passing of his mother, but also to the fact that he’s finally unleashing the full power of his jazz fusion adventurousness and ingenuity as a composer, arranger and performer on tenor, alto, soprano and baritone sax, bassoon, electric bassoon, clarinet, bass clarinet and flute.
The safe route would have been to limit himself to a singular melodic voice, but it’s clear that Ortwein enjoys being all over the musical map, drawing on the sonic dynamics of all those axes to create a freewheeling sense of intrigue and merriment, tonal and rhythmic shifts, and hard rockin’ swing (“Basso Bossa”) and humor (the bustling spaced out Latin jam “Pepperoni Grande con Queso Mas”) offset by tender balladry (a graceful take on “I Can’t Make You Love Me” featuring The Voice winner Josh Kaufman).
He’s also probably the only musician on the planet to include homages to both his ex-wife (“Schizoid,” which jerks from a cool New Orleans vibe to chamber music to avant-garde rock/jazz to a blistering drum solo by Craig Hetrick) and current wife Carrie (the deeply soulful, lyrical “Lunar Love”). Other standouts include the moody, light funk trad jazz ballad “After You’re Gone” (featuring a sweet sax-trumpet duality) and the blazing jazz-rocker “Bigfoot,” penned by Ortwein’s son Olas Ortwein - who also contributes fretless and electric bass, guitar and keys to the collection.
Helping Ortwein bring his bold introductory solo vision to life is a massive ensemble , of top cats (15 credited in all) from Indianapolis, Chicago and NYC. Hopefully, It Was Time won’t be a pandemic originated one off and we’ll be hearing more unpredictable fire from Ortwein in the near future.