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Danilo Pérez: Things to Come: 21st Century Dizzy

Alain Londes By

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Danilo Pérez
Koerner Hall
Toronto, ON
March 27, 2010

Danilo Pérez was part of Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra back in 1989 and is now firmly established as a pianist in his own right. In tribute to one of bebop's pioneers, he brought a multicultural program entitled "Things To Come: 21st Century Dizzy" to the halls of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, accompanied by tenor saxophonist David Sanchez, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, percussionist Jamey Haddad, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Adam Cruz. In the spirit of a global musical appeal, Pérez felt that this was a good time to reclaim his mentor's philosophy of bringing together different music styles and textures.

Kicking things off with "Suite for the Americas," under Patitucci's deep opening notes, the band delivered an extensive musical imagery sequence. A dream-like section had ElSaffar's trumpet playing a lamenting solo with Pérez quietly accentuating in the background. Eventually the bass, drums, and percussion contributed the beats towards a slow buildup with the saxophones joining in. The rhythmic changes exemplified the various motifs that the musicians explored on the leader's composition. At one point, the only musicians left on stage were Mahanthappa, ElSaffar and Haddad, who participated in a musical conversation, almost like a spiritual calling, echoing arabic influences (thanks in part to the rich collection of half notes). A quick reference to "Night In Tunisia," signaled the discreet exit of the alto and trumpet leaving Pérez working with Patitucci who briefly switched to the bow. It was almost as if Pérez had composed this whole piece with these exact musicians in mind. Following a relaxing and tasteful rendition of "Round Midnight," the first half closed with a rearranged version of "Salt Peanuts" by Mahanthappa, who had the famous melody played by the saxophones and trumpet one measure behind the standard version and over a fast rhythm. Mahanthappa demonstrated perfect technical dexterity and imagination—testament to his recent international recognition.

At the tail end of the intermission, audience members were treated to a brief conversation between Danilo Pérez and Mervon Mehta, the Executive Director for the center. He talked about how he joined Gillespie's United Nations band when he was 22 and some of his other activities in recent years. He is currently the Artistic Director of Berklee's Global Jazz Institute (BGJI), a venture dedicated to advance the social power of music, to explore creativity, and to connect music with nature. To illustrate some of these goals, he asked the audience members to simply sing a note on command. He then instinctly went to the piano to contribute to the collective sound that he was hearing. To his ears, the result had a blues edge to it.

For those who were unfamiliar with the two-bar rhythmic pattern of the clave, Pérez explained it by having the audience verbalize the following phrase, stressing each word separately and with a shorter delay between the last two: "How are you?... I'm Fine." With this introduction, the band kicked off the second half of the show with a drawn out version of "Manteca" punctuated by the signature bass riffs. Following Adam Cruz's "Pinwheel," another Gillespie classic in this set was the easy rhythmic "Con Alma." The band leader led the encore with the audience singing the first few bars of "Tin Tin Deo," thereby encapsulating both the aims of Danilo Pérez and his legendary mentor. If that was not enough, attendees were able to enjoy a few tunes performed in the lobby by Royal Conservatory of Music students and even get a chance to bump into the headliner musicians of the evening.


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