Composer-pianist Danilo Perez's past releases have been more energetic and rhythmically striking than Till Then, Perez's first new release in three years. There are far more contemplative, subdued numbers on this CD than on previous albums, but Perez tries to balance this tendency by tackling an ambitious program that includes impressive renditions of unusual material for a jazz session. He covers Joni Mitchell's "Fiddle and the Drum," Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" and Ruben Blades' "Paula C" as well as Milton Nascimento's "Vera Cruz" and Silvio Rodr¡guez's "Rabo de Nube."
Perez alternates between trios on the session, sometimes using his touring band of bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz while on other pieces working with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, whom he worked with in Wayne Shorter's band. While the latter rhythm section certainly has a higher profile, the regulars offer more daring, imaginative and fiery support for Perez on such songs as "Paulo C," and "Rabo de Nube" than Blade and Patitucci offer on "Gracias a la Vida" or "Trocano em Mi£dos." Patitucci in particular doesn't play with his usual robust qualities, and Blade is solid but uninspiring. The choices of material for the various groups may also be responsible, but Perez's solos, accompaniment and overall presence are far superior on those dates as well. Perhaps what's most personally disappointing is hearing so many conservatively crafted statements from a genuine piano virtuoso. Perez saves his most animated playing for the session-concluding "Vera Cruz," a song on which both Blade and Patitucci also seem to awaken, demonstrating the kind of fabric-stretching abilities as a rhythm section that's made their work with Joshua Redman so engaging.
Guest vocalist Lizz Wright emerges as the session's surprise star. While she's even more impressive on her own Verve debut, Wright sings with passion and spark on her two numbers, sounding especially poignant on Mitchell's "Fiddle and the Drum." Soprano saxophonist Donny McCaslin acquits himself reasonably well on his two songs, since he's asked to do much beyond light melodic exposition.
Tommy LiPuma's a reliable, thoroughly accomplished producer, and these songs are technically impeccable. But the sparks, leaps and flair that Perez displays during the opening moments of his own "Improvisation on Red," or during segments of another original work "Native Soul" come closest to emulating the type of fluid, exciting playing that he routinely presented on his other releases. Till Then contains enough pleasurable and occasionally memorable songs to offer the audience glimpses of Danilo Perez's considerable talent. Unfortunately, the consistency and sustained excellence of his prior efforts isn't fully duplicated on this offering.