Danilo Pérez – Panama 500

London Jazz: April 2, 2014

It’s 500 years since the ‘discovery’ of Panama and pianist Danilo Pérez calls this album a ‘rediscovery’.

He draws together modern jazz with European Classical and indigenous Guna music into an aural image of his country’s history. ‘I have been working for years to make music that has an identity very similar to the role that Panama plays in the world.’ Pérez is perhaps best known as Wayne Shorter’s pianist, and drummer Brian Blade and bassist John Pattitucci from Shorter’s band join Pérez for several tracks on this album; the rest comprises his regular trio with Ben Street and Adam Cruz, melding jazz and traditional Panamanian rhythms, to ‘expand on the idea of clave’, as Pérez puts it.

Traditional Panamanian music, chants and percussion sometimes stand alone in short tracks; mostly Pérez has created music around their rhythms.Rediscovery of the South Sea opens the album with composed violin lines (Alex Hargreaves) teasing out the inner harmonies of the piano chords. It’s like a miniature orchestral piece, with sinuous Eastern violin lines draped around the local La Denesa dance rhythms, dense harmonies and playful improvisations. (Guna chant from Roman Diaz and percussion from Ricaurte Villarreal) There’s a free section where Perez asked Street and Cruz to play ‘as if they were lost in the jungle,’ like Spanish explorers. ‘When the piano brings the melody back,’ Pérez says, ‘I’m trying to play like it’s two o’clock in the morning and the left hand is drunk.’ Gratitude, written for his loved ones and fellow musicians, has a joyful calypso feel, with deliciously rustling drum texture, the final ringing chord unleashing all the piano’s deep shadowy overtones.

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