Friday October 01, 2010
Danilo Perez: Provedencia
By: Geoffrey Himes
There is nothing small about Danilo Perez’s ambitions. The pianist wants nothing less than to create a Panamanian style of jazz composition. And that means a lot more than just adding some congas to a bebop combo.
It’s easy to understand why American jazz musicians have seized upon rhythm as the defining element of Latin music, for that quality is the most exotic to their ears and the most useful to their purposes. But someone who grew up in the music, as Perez did, knows that Latin America in general and Panama in particular also have contributions to make in melody and harmony. To create an indigenous form of jazz composition, he will have to integrate those tunes and chord voicings into the music as well as the hand drums.
He demonstrates this on his new album, Providencia. In the press notes, he describes his new composition “Galactic Panama” as an omniscient view of his native land, as if invisible flying saucers were able to spy on the crowded sidewalks of Panama City. There pedestrians seem to move to the pulse of the national dance, the tamborito, firmly established by Perez’s regular triomates, bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz. But something else is happening on those streets as well, not just a fierce struggle for survival, represented by the pianist’s dense block chords, but also a resilient optimism, represented by the lilting melody introduced by Perez and amplified by alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. The way those block chords jostle against the jaunty rhythm and the way that lyrical motif skips around the beat is foreign enough to American ears to sound new and yet familiar enough to be embraced.