Oscar Perez / Nuevo Comienzo: Afropean Affair

Dave Wayne By

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On Afropean Affair , pianist/composer Óscar Pérez treads an appealing line between Afro-Latin jazz and modern jazz reminiscent of the Cuban band Irakere—or, perhaps, the first couple of Chick Corea Return to Forever discs, with saxophonist/flautist Joe Farrell and drummer Airto Moreira).

A native of New York City, Pérez's early immersion in both Afro-Cuban and European classical music came courtesy of his parents, who hail from Cuba and Colombia. After studying violin, piano, and guitar as a youth, Pérez dedicated himself to the piano when he arrived at the University of North Florida in the early 1990s. After completing his undergraduate studies, Pérez studied at the New England Conservatory with Danilo Pérez, but eventually returned to New York to complete his studies under Sir Sir Roland Hanna and Phillip Michael Mossman at Queens College. Pérez's subsequent gigs and engagements include tours and recordings with saxophonist Virginia Mayhew, trombonists Wycliffe Gordon and Steve Turre, and a three-year stint with vocalist Phoebe Snow.

The members of Nuevo Comienzo, Pérez's longstanding sextet, are—like Pérez himself—young, conservatory-trained musicians embarking on careers of their own. Saxophonist Stacy Dillard, the standout soloist throughout Afropean Affair, is the best-known of the group with four CDs under his own name. The band has been together since 2004 with only minor personnel changes, and this cohesiveness is reflected in its music. Complex and multifaceted, Pérez's compositions and thoughtful arrangements constantly twist and turn, while touching on straight-ahead jazz ("The Illusive Number"), impressionistic balladry ("As Brothers Would"), and fusion ("Paths and Streams") in various unexpected ways. "Canaria" is a particularly effective composition that marries a mournful theme to a propulsive, almost victorious-sounding vamp to produce cathartic rhythmic and harmonic tension-and-release. Pérez also shines as the primary soloist on this piece.

The centerpiece of Afropean Affair, however, is the title suite. The addition of Chareene Wade's wordless vocals is a huge plus, as Pérez makes full use of the additional possibilities afforded by Wade's breathy, effortless alto. The lengthy "Cosas Lindas" moves from pensive, ECM-like modal jazz and extroverted Latin jazz to minor-keyed Latin funk, buoyed by Dillard's exultant soloing and constantly cooking percussion from Emiliano Valerio and Jerome Jennings. European classical influences come to the foreground on the intricate "Last Season's Sorrow," a mellow showcase for flugelhornist Greg Glassman. "A New Day Emerging" is a real cooker that closes this fine CD on a dynamic note.

Afropean Affair features an impressive selection of tunes from a promising young pianist and composer. That Pérez has kept this top-notch band together for so long also speaks well for his abilities as a bandleader.

Track Listing: The Illusive Number; Canaria; As Brothers Would; Paths and Streams; The Afropean Suite (Cosas Lindas Que Viven Ahora; Last Season's Sorrow; A New Day Emerging).

Personnel: Óscar Pérez: piano, Fender Rhodes; Greg Glassman: trumpet, flugelhorn, Stacy Dillard: tenor and soprano saxophones; Anthony Perez: bass; Jerome Jennings: drums; Emiliano Valerio: percussion; Charenee Wade: vocals (5-7).

Title: Afropean Affair | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Chandra Records


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