Danilo Pérez: Global Messengers
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, EFG London Jazz Festival, Friday 22 November 2019. Review by Mike Collins)
Danilo Pérez is a force of nature. A complex and nuanced force for sure, the pieces and a suite of the pianists compositions his Global Messengers band played at Queen Elizabeth Hall were layered, many stranded and occasionally labyrinthine, but fire, passion and invention ran through the set, ultimately setting the stage alight.
Pérez has been most visible in recent years for his part in fêted Wayne Shorter Quartet, but the Global Messengers give full expression to his own wide-ranging musical vision and overtly political and humanitarian sensibilities: He’s a UNESCO Artist for Peace and founder and director of Berklee’s Global Jazz Institute, several of whose alumni were on stage with him in London.
With an unusual instrumentation of violin (Iraqi/ Jordanian Layth Sidiq), cello (Palestinian Naseem Alatrash), percussion (Jerusalem born Palestinian Tareq Rantisi), vocals (Idaho-born Ferayi Malek) and laouto, a type of lute (Greek Vasilis Kostas) as well as the piano, the centre of gravity of the sound world expressed in melodies and scales was firmly in the Middle East and North Africa.
The opener, that was translated as The Wall, started with elegant vocal melody and swelling harmony, evolved through textural episodes from the strings with punchy rhythmic hooks, before settling into a quietly pulsating percussion driven groove with cello, violin, voice from both Malek and Sidiq all taking spots in the centre of attention, clapped and egged on by the band, the twists and inflections of the improvised lines weaving between East and West.
It set the pattern for the other pieces with dense episodes and fiery passages of improvisation and exchanges of phrases. Perez and Kostas in particular danced around each other again and again, and set sparks flying. There were exhilarating passages of unison with voice and strings twisting and spiraling breakneck through written melodies and themes. There was a four-movement suite, commissioned in part by the London Jazz Festival, that started with a yearning song Crossing Borders and concluded with another fiery episode on Unknown Destinations.
At the centre of it all was Pérez, nudging and goading from the piano, setting the pace and taking flight with fiercely rhythmic solos. After the suite, came an encore in the true meaning of the word. ‘We’re all family aren’t we?’ said the leader turning to the audience. ‘We’re just going to try something… let’s see where it goes’. And they played the first movement again. Then Perez worked some magic. It was clear the band didn’t know quite what was going to happen, but stroked strings, ruminative flurries and an ostinato figure appeared, and they were off into another piece with a exultant crescendo to take us out.
The spirit and energy of the performance wove a spell which drew us in through the single long set. It was an uplifting experience and warmly received by the festival audience.