Danilo Perez and Somi at the Kimmel Center
After intermission, a power-packed group recruited by pianist Danilo Perez delivered a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie with new arrangements that resonated with the rhythmic bebop pulsations of Dizzy and his bands, of which Perez was a member, while experimenting with dissonances and shifts in mood and tempo that were implied by the subtitle "21st Century Dizzy." Nearly all the rhythms were Latin-based, reminiscent of the Gillespie band's extended stints in South America and the influence of his one-time band member from Cuba, Paquito D'Riverawith some resonances of Chick Corea as well. The Latinate "rhythm-a-ning" (Thelonious Monk's neologism) of Adam Cruz on the drum set was supplemented by the great Jamey Haddad on a collection of percussion instruments. Haddad created Stravinsky-like pulsations that drove Perez, the horn players and legendary bassistJohn Patitucci into powerful choruses that broke the boundaries of the melodies and harmonies of each composition. The magnificence of their performance was inspired in large measure by alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who took the saxophone beyond even Michael Brecker's boundaries into the stratosphere of virtuosity and brilliant, insightful improvising. One wouldn't want to be a saxophonist sharing the stage with this living giant of a player! David Sanchez on tenor saxophone did so, however, with personal grace and some great licks of his own. And trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, complementing both of them well, did some heavy solos as well.
Illustrative of the entire set was the group's rendering of the Dizzy Gillespie/Kenny Clarke classic "Salt Peanuts," based as it is on a simple four-bar phrase whose rhythm caught the essence of bebop. Starting and ending with unison horn statements of the melody, quite possibly transcribed from Gillespie's recordings, the rhythm section invoked Dizzy-ing salutations to the bebop off-beat that changed the face of jazz. Each group member did a solo update, just as the progenitors of bebop used the simple tune as a showpiece for their musical wares. Similar contemporary complexities were woven into the Gillespie classics "Manteca," which culminated in a fireworks percussion solo by Haddad, and "Con Alma," with Perez' arranging and the group's extended choruses creating a virtual symphonic tribute to Dizzy. In between these Gillespie originals, Perez inserted Thelonious Monk's classic "'Round Midnight," which Perez indicated was one of Dizzy's favorites. The unfortunate mistake was Perez' failure to realize that the only one who could take this tune into the nether regions was Monk himself. All others must proceed with caution and stay close to the shoreline! Perez sought to go out on a 21st-Century limb with his arrangement, an act of hubris that evoked the wrath of the gods, or at least of this reviewer.
Perez is a superb pianist and band leader, and one of the most productive musicians in the business. He put together a fabulous group for this occasion and let them go all out. However, exception can be taken to the way he tried to warm up the audience by getting them to clap and sing on several occasions. It is not the sort of thing to do with the likes of Haddad and Mahanthappa playing. They are not your ordinary salsa band! While these gentlemen took the campy gesture with grace, the world needs frequent reminders that jazz music can be as holy and heavenly as classical music and should be listened to with as much reverence, especially with such brilliant and creative musicians performing.
Another somewhat distressing note was that the concert occurred amidst talk that the Kimmel Center, due to the economics of the recession, let go of its vice president for programming, Tom Warner, who is a dear friend of jazz, not to mention all music that meets high standards. Coincidentally there are rumors that the "Jazz Fridays" Program, of which this concert was part, is being disbanded. This is virtually the only series in Philadelphia that features high-profile jazz players on a regular basis. Given that the stated mission of the Kimmel Center is to serve the community, it appears that the jazz flank of that community is being short-changed. All jazz lovers in this city and its suburbs should contact the Kimmel Center and make known the inestimable value of the Friday Night Jazz series, expressing hope that it will continue.