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Panama Jazz Festival: Panama City, January 14-19, 2013

Josef Woodard By

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As a point of sympathetic stylistic joinery for the evening, however unintended, Frisell and company tapped into African elements and spirits in their version of "Come Together," making for a point of resonant cross-reference to Baca's sensuous Afro-Peruvian sound. Baca's stellar quartet eased into a groove and the earthy-ethereal Peruvian chanteuse entered, barefoot and dressed in fluid, gauzy blue layers. As a musician and as a stage presence, Baca has a subtle yet strong and centered charisma. She's magnetic, in the truest and least calculated sense of the word.

Baca, also the Minister of Culture in Peru in addition to being a so-called "world music" icon, humbly commanded the stage, while seamlessly stitching together African, Peruvian and sometimes flamenco-like qualities in the music, as when she was backed by just nylon-stringed guitar and cajon. She's riding the energy wave as heard and crystallized on her 2011 album on Luaka Bop, Afrodiaspora, but to hear her in live form is to witness a poetic powerhouse, one for the ages. Her role in a jazz festival setting, and specifically this one, was an inspired and geo-sensitive touch in the programming.

Friday's big show at the Teatro Anayansi opened, fittingly, with one of Pérez ' ongoing endeavors back home in Boston, the young Global Jazz Institute group, with guest drummer Adam Cruz in the mix. The musicians here, including solid tenor player Halpin, nimble trombonist John Egizi, also saxophonist Clay Lyons, drummer-percussionist Sergio Martinez, bassist Jared Henderson and pianist Caili O'Doherty, appear to be going somewhere, yes, but also have a confident sense of musical self at this developmental point.

Shorter, alongside his now longstanding group with Pérez , bassist John Patitucci and artful livewire drummer Brian Blade, was especially inspired and rewarding to hear, considering that the leader had been in the hospital with a respiratory problem until several hours before the show. But the show did go on, and with the quartet in almost triumphant form, beautifully navigated the intersection of freedom and design, structure and surprise, a distinctive balancing act which Shorter has been honing with this group for a dozen years.

This comes at a time when Shorter, tilting towards his 80th birthday, is going stronger than usual with his quartet's first new album in seven years, Without a Net (Blue Note), the boldest record yet featuring this group and the source of some of the concert's material. Shorter is also branching out into orchestral projects, such as the L.A. Philharmonic collaboration "Gaia" (which premiered at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles on February 9), and a project with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. But the anchor ensemble in Shorter's life is his quartet, and it's a project which has been a symbolic and actual pillar of the ongoing enterprise that is the Panama Jazz Festival.

As of 2013, the Panama Jazz Festival, Pérez' grand adventure in the jazz festival business, has passed the decade mark with flying colors and visions of expansion in the offing.

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