Luis Perdomo didn't want to make a Latin jazz record when he first arrived in New York City, 13 years ago. Even though the pianist-composer is firmly rooted in the idiom, having grown up in Caracas, Venezuela, he says that he "just wasn't into it," when producers from two major labels asked him to dole out boilerplate Latin-jazz standards.
Perdomo's long-overdue debut, Focus Point (RKM) contains moments that are undeniably Latin in terms of the bata drums and Afro-Venezuelan percussion rhythms pulsating underneath blistering songs such as "You Know I Know" and "San Millan." But elsewhere the disc veers toward the avant-garde ("The Stranger") and then back to straightahead ("Breakdown"), all while keeping a cohesive sound. "I just waited until I got the right opportunity where I could just play music," Perdomo says.
Perdomo see Focus Point as a summation of his musical growth. It features tunes that he wrote back when he was still living in South America and during his formal studies at the Manhattan School of Music and Queens College as well as music written days before the session.
Given his early ventures into the professional world of music-playing in salsa bands at age 12 then performing in a jazz trio at age 16 at Caracas' famous Juan Sebastian Club, where he met the likes of Pharoah Sanders, Chucho Valdes and James Genus-it's not surprising that Perdomo was a bit overly confident when he first moved to the U.S. But it wasn't until he took private lessons under Sir Roland Hanna that he truly "learned the piano."
"He was the first teacher who really kicked my ass," Perdomo says. "Sir Roland Hanna started me from zero. He actually made me realize that I didn't really know anything about the piano." The most important lesson Hanna imparted on him was being self-sufficient. "He used to tell me, 'Luis, I'm not going to be with you all the time. If you run into a problem and you don't know or understand the harmony, chords or fingering, you have to know how to solve it by yourself.'"
Judging from the demanding music on Focus Point and Perdomo's equally daring playing with the likes of Ravi Coltrane and Miguel Zenon, it's apparent that the pianist took Hanna's advice to heart. Today Perdomo's one of the most resourceful keyboardists on the scene.