10 Tracks I Can't Do Without

Ten Tracks by Danilo Pérez I Can’t Do Without…by Steve Boudreau

Steve Boudreau is a Canadian jazz pianist and educator based in Ottawa. His latest album is a piano trio record entitled “Cherished Possessions”. In this latest contribution to our “Ten Tracks….” series, in which musicians write about their inspirations, Steve delves into his favourite tracks by Danilo Pérez, who taught him in Boston.

Danilo Pérez. Photo by Tito Herrer

Danilo Pérez is a Grammy-award winning pianist and composer, as well as an educator and social activist. He has collaborated with many of the top names in jazz, including being a member of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, and has released many acclaimed records in his own name. He founded the Berklee Global Jazz Institute and the Panama Jazz Festival.

Upon hearing Pérez for the first time, I found myself drawn to the artistic brilliance and compassion in every note. After a few years of attending Wayne Shorter quartet shows and seeing Perez’s trio with Ben Street and Adam Cruz, I returned to school at the New England Conservatory in 2008 to pursue a Master’s Degree and study with Perez.  

1. Impressions from Central Avenue 

So many things that I think of as Danilo trademarks are in this early track – starting with a sophisticated “big 5” groove with a unique clave pattern. This is piano playing that commands your attention. Danilo finds the balance between searching for something new and effortlessly floating along, all with the distinct feeling that he’s got the gas pedal all the way down. 

2. Evidence/Four in One from Panamonk

It was difficult to choose between this track and Danilo’s rendition of Monk’s “Reflections”, but this hybrid of “Evidence” and “Four In One” played at the same time blew my mind when I first heard it – the deep connection and swing between Danilo and lifelong friend Terri Lyne Carrington is on full display here as well. It’s revealing to listen to any Monk tune in Danilo’s hands. 

3. “Native Soul” from …Till Then

As a composer, Danilo’s sense of melody and form is as compelling as his improvising. “Native Soul” is also a great studio-recorded example of his trio with Ben Street and Adam Cruz. I remember discussing this group with friends, noting how this was a ‘real’ band that played together a lot – you can hear the deep connection and brotherhood.

4. “Overjoyed” – Live at the Jazz Showcase

The best recording of the trio with Street and Cruz has to be Live at the Jazz Showcase – it bristles with creativity and improvised coincidences that come from a regularly performing band captured at their height. The studio version and video on YouTube are good, but this live version starts with a spectacular solo piano introduction that sets up an intensely energised performance that really highlights what makes live jazz so special. After listening to all of these versions many times, I went to go see the band at The Jazz Standard in New York. One night, after a breathtaking introduction, Danilo started the familiar setup vamp but in a slow 4/4 that more closely resembled the original Stevie Wonder version. You could read the band’s facial expressions as they adjusted, “Oh, are we doing it like this tonight?” – it taught me that sometimes the freshest thing you can do is to leave your plan behind. 

5. “Masqualero” from Footprints Live! by Wayne Shorter

My favourite track from the Wayne Shorter Quartet includes moments of total synchronisation between the band, bursts of joy, and expressions of supreme creativity. Just listening to this track is a little like eating the icing off a cake; a live concert by this group would build to these moments. If this track interests you, the next step is taking in one of their live albums in one sitting.

6. “Providencia” from Providencia

“Providencia” is a great example of Danilo’s sense of growing musical community – if there was only enough time to record something with every talented person he crossed paths with. The wordless vocals by Sara Serpa joining his trio, augmented with Rudresh Mahanthappa and two percussionists, as well as tracks with a wind quintet, make this record a great place to start before getting into his other large ensemble projects. 

7. “Afro Blue” from Salt by Lizz Wright

Although Danilo’s most well-known collaboration with a vocalist was his Grammy-award winning outing with Kurt Elling, I want to highlight this track where Danilo appears as a guest on Lizz Wright‘s album (as she does on his Native Soul album). It might seem like a typical guest-soloist cut at first, but it’s the back half that’s most interesting, as the tune takes its time to wind down with a piano-centred interactive jam on the big six groove.

8. “Soulful Ballad” from Music We Are

Most of my lessons with Danilo involved nonstop playing – sometimes the next student, a bass player, would come in and wordlessly join in, and we would continue to play until the next piano student came along and tagged me out. Danilo mostly played melodica and tried to push our ears with simple melodic choices that demanded interaction. This track where Danilo accompanies Jack DeJohnette on melodica brings me right back to those sessions.

9. “Green Chimneys” from The Roy Haynes Trio featuring Danilo Perez & John Patitucci

In a group class Danilo once said, “In a piano trio, it’s the drummer who defines your sound”. At first my ego bristled at that thought, but there are some drummers I can recognise from one cymbal hit. It encouraged me to listen to the detailed bass and drum contributions in trio playing more than I used to. There are three records on this list where Danilo and John Patitucci play in trio format with different drummers; on this wonderful live record, we have the great Roy Haynes. There are some approaches to this simple Monk tune that I love – like the way they mark the form in the middle with a big punch on beat 3 during the bridge. There’s some inspired spontaneous playing inside the piano here as well. 

10. “Within Everything” from Children of the Light

The other band I discovered and started a long-term relationship with through Wayne Shorter’s quartet is the Brian Blade Fellowship band. This track is a piece that the Fellowship band recorded, but presented here in a stripped-down trio format with Danilo and John Patitucci. Danilo brings his own voice to Brian’s beautiful writing. Both versions are amazing and I love hearing Blade’s composer-voice come through in different ways.

LINK: Steve Boudreau’s website

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