Pianist Danilo Perez' Across the Crystal Sea, his ninth album as a leader, succeeds better than most jazz with strings efforts because the orchestral arrangements, by legendary composer and producer Claus Ogerman, work with, not against the improvisations of Perez and his top-notch trio. This is no repeat of the hackneyed formula of jazz players soloing on top of a lush string section; it's a truly integrated meeting of jazz and classical music, each tune a self-contained jazz concerto.
Ogerman, who's worked with everyone from Antonio Carlos Jobim, Frank Sinatra and Stan Getz over a 50-year career, wrote most of the tunes here, basing them on classical themes by Jules Massenet, Sergei Rachmaninoff and others. Although this is a decidedly low-key, vaguely tropical affair, there are many stirring moments, particularly in the title composition, based on a theme by Hugo Distler, and the beautiful "Rays and Shadows," inspired by Jean Sibelius.
It helps that Perez, a mainstay of Wayne Shorter's quartet, has seasoned pros like bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash, along with percussionist Luis Quintero, to keep the mood from slipping from relaxed to drowsy. The enchanting vocalist Cassandra Wilson, herself no stranger to slow tempos, perfectly complements the rest of the cast on two standards, "Lazy Afternoon" and "(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings."
Across the Crystal Sea; Rays and Shadows; Lazy Afternoon; The Purple Condor; If I Forget You; (All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings; The Saga of Rita Joe; Another Autumn.
Danilo Pérez: piano; Cassandra Wilson: vocals (3, 6); Christian McBride: bass; Lewis Nash: drums; Luis Quintero: percussion; Claus Ogerman: conductor, orchestra arranger.