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Jazz 100: "provocative tribute to jazz giants"

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Monday March 20, 2017

From The Chicago Tribune

Review: Danilo Perez leads provocative tribute to jazz giants at Orchestra Hall
By: Howard Reich

Not all celebrations are loud, raucous and overbearing.

Some are subtle, sophisticated and sublime, such as the one Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez led Friday night in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center.

Titled “Jazz 100: The Music of Dizzy, Ella, Mongo and Monk,” the event marked a remarkable confluence of birthdays, for trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, singer Ella Fitzgerald, percussionist Mongo Santamaria and pianist Thelonious Monk all were born a century ago this year.

Just think of how jazz would be diminished without Gillespie’s stratospheric trumpet virtuosity and soulful compositions, Fitzgerald’s gauzy vocal colors and still-unmatched scat singing, Santamaria’s Afro-Cuban jazz innovations, and Monk’s idiosyncratic rhythms and profoundly expressive dissonances.

None of these artists can be successfully mimicked, so Perez chose a wiser course: He conceived contemporary responses reflecting the interests of the band he convened for the occasion. Considering that the ensemble featured adventurous saxophonist Chris Potter, pervasively lyrical trumpeter Avishai Cohen, ebullient trumpeter Wycliffe Gordon and charismatic vocalist Lizz Wright, the musical possibilities were vast.

To this, add longtime Perez collaborators Ben Street on bass and Adam Cruz on drums, plus Cuban conguero Roman Diaz, and the music might have gone in any of several directions.

But from the outset, a suite of compositions saluting Gillespie, there was no doubt that Perez and friends would lean toward provocative harmony, free-form improvisation and an emphasis on color, texture and ambience over conventional melody and backbeat. In effect, the many years Perez has spent in the admired quartet of saxophonist Wayne Shorter — who specializes in ethereal phrase-making and ambiguous chord structures — have influenced Perez deeply.

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