Review: Danilo Perez Trio, Ronnie Scott’s

Danilo Perez Trio
(Ronnie Scott’s, 6th June 2012. Review by Alison Bentley)

Danilo Perez believes music should bring people together. ‘You can make good music out of anything!’ he joked, as he got the audience to sing a random chord. ‘Let’s see where you guys are tonally!’ – we were nowhere, but Perez turned our offering into a beautiful piano improvisation. As Ronnie Scott used to say, it had a lot of the same notes in it!

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Perez brings cultures together in music too: jazz (he’s played with everyone, from Dizzy to his regular gig with Wayne Shorter), his classical training, traditional Panamanian rhythms and even pop tunes – all in his original, distinctive style.

Monk’s Ask Me Now and Round Midnight showed Perez’ debt to the composer’s spiky style. There were incredibly moving moments, where a familiar chord sequence was jolted by an unexpected dark altered chord.

Perez’ own tunes weave dark edgy modes into complex group improvisations. The harmonic minor evokes a Spanish flamenco sound, but always taking it somewhere new. He plays hide and seek with the listener, then, like Herbie Hancock, anchors everything with bluesy riffs.

Perez has a great emotional commitment to traditional Panamanian culture. His father introduced him to the traditional tamborito dance rhythm when he was a child, and Perez in turn played a piece dedicated to his daughter. Ben Street‘s lovely bass solo echoed the yearning mood.

Many pianists use montunos to reach a high point in their solos, but Perez uses them as a starting point, twisting every cliche and displacing rhythms. The piano became a percussion instrument, very precise, not soothing or dreamy. The rhythmic propulsion often comes from Perez’ left hand block chords, repeated as if in a salsa band, or at times the Rite of Spring. This frees up the bass to play fragments of lines, hinting at the groove.

Galactic Panama featured the tamborito rhythm, the two hands playing cross rhythms. The right hand harmonies in thirds recalled the traditional Mejorana singers from the Panama mountains- Perez has recorded with some of them. His classical background showed in the drifting dissonant bell-like arpeggios in the right hand- hints of Ravel?

A new unnamed piece recalled Poulenc’s Mouvements Perpetuels. Many of the tunes had perpetual motion, a constant shifting, like sunlight on water. The two hands play a Tristano-style counterpoint- now it’s changed- is it Mozart?

Adam Cruz at times plays the kit as if he’s a percussionist- the toms become timbales, with rimshots like clave sticks or a guiro, a cymbal a shaker. Besame Mucho began with a wonderful long drum solo, and when Cruz uses the full kit, the sound is overwhelming.

Two pop songs were given a makeover: Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed and the Beatles’ Here There and Everywhere (we were invited to sing this as part of our own culture) showed Perez’ ingenuity. The former had a 7/4 Latin feel and the latter turned into a reharmonised cha cha cha! Perez wants to celebrate life through music,- ‘what brings us together as humans’. Music doesn’t get better than this, and the audience roared for more.

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