Danilo Perez Live!
is the intended message of this set. Somebody must have decided that the pianist sounds better (livelier, more spontaneous) on gigs than in the studio. Startlingly young in Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation (not Nations) Orchestra, Perez (born in 1978) is currently the pianist in Wayne Shorter's quartet. While this live trio set goes to some very various places, variety is delimited by the pianist's strong compositional identity.
It hardly matters that the opener might have been composed on the spot. It's interesting and exciting, played over a drone of alternating bass figures, Bartok-meets-bagipes, but it swings. In the brief "We See" Monk's theme emerges from European doodles, the ace bassist showing his paces. As on "Monk's Dream" later in the set, the theme is unveiled among melodic lines devised on the model of Monk worked out by Steve Lacy, with whom Perez did interesting work.
"Epilogo" does seem a bit early as the title for the third track, but then Duke Ellington liked to close the first half of a concert with his "The Opener." The Spanish accent of "Epilogo" is a reminder less of Perez's personal background than of his Twentieth Century European references. Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" is more Bartok with (again ace) bass and drums. "Metropolis" is credited to all three players, quite right too. How many on-the-spot improvisations are there in this live set?
"Rabo de Nube" offers some beautiful ballad playing; "Monk's Dream" is a tour-de-force (must check out Perez's Monk album); Ben Street's "Furrows" is half plaintive ballad, half European concert study; and "Unseen Hands" is two minutes' jeux d'esprit, but dark. The Perez composition "Native Soul" is overcome in performance by the pianist's not unreasonable ambition to compose a symphony: identity at odds with variety. "New Born" is a short feature for Ben Street's dancing bass, and Street opens the bagatelle "Cancion de Cuna" on his own. He then duets on this delicate ballad with the co-composer, who comes in with both hands for the complex opening to "Paula C."
The rhythm to this closer is so complex that it's hard to make out a main tempo, even hear a dominant rhythm. Then Perez goes off on his own, to be joined by Cruz, who dominates as the bass comes in and the heat's turned on.
Perez is never a stilted player, but prone to meditation, full of European rather than jazz-centric ideas, but with the ability to stomp and swing with real excitement. This set resolves itself by rising up-tempo, and the audience did want to cheer. Never bad, but when this gets good, it can be very, very good.
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Personnel: Danilo Perez (piano); Ben Street (double bass); Adam Cruz (drums).