Two Latin greats play with passion and joy at San Francisco Jazz concerts

San Francisco Jazz features a great line-up of Latin Stars

Two Latin greats play with passion and joy at San Francisco Jazz concerts
By Jazz Spy
October 22, 2012

When SF Jazz presents two of the greatest pianists in the world, it is a very special occasion. When they happen to be at the absolute peak of their careers, it is even more significant. And when they are among the top Latin musicians in the world, it is time to stand up and cheer.
Latin jazz, and Latin music in general, has had enormous swings of popularity in the U.S. Certainly there have been important moments that every fan remembers, including when Bird and Diz “went Latin.” Waves of popularity for mambo, cha cha cha and, later, salsa swept the country, including the salsa explosion of the Fania records group in the 70’s and 80’s that was the height of salsa in America. And new music arrived from Brazil and, later, Cuba that changed Americans’ perceptions of these innovative dance inspiringstyles forever.
In bringing together many of these players to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the SF Jazz Festival has actually created a mini-festival of Latin players and styles. At its center stand two of the most accomplished players in all of music, Eliane Elias and Danilo Pérez.
Eliane Elias is at the top of her game, applying her finely honed skills with the innovative playfulness of Brazilian music. And as careful listeners learn with virtually every concert, the music of Brazil is a seamless stream of rhythm and melody, intricately interwoven.
Elias mixed traditional bossa novas and other classics with original compositions, demonstrating tremendous technique and beautiful vocals. The fantastic rhythm section featured her partner Marc Johnson on bass, guitarist Rubens de la Corte, and superb drummer Rafael Barata. To say that this band cooked is an understatement. They cooked in a way that few bands can, with a level of Brazilian spices that shook the wonderful walls of the soon-to-be-renovated Herbst Theater to their core.
To see a group this much in sync is like seeing a comet in the sky. Brazilian tunes such as Chega de Saudade, One Note Samba, So Danço Samba, Desafinado and The Girl from Ipanema were both re-invigorated and beautifully re-interpreted. Even a little tune like Rosa Morena by Dorival Caymmi was performed with such passion and joy that the audience was left shouting its approval.
Hearing the great Danilo Pérez from Panama was a very different experience. Pérez has an equally brilliant and thrilling band, with Ben Street on bass and the exciting Adam Cruz on drums. But he is, on the one hand, more of a traditional jazz artist and, on the other, equally grounded in the street sounds of Panama. In a pre-concert talk, Danilo stated that the basis of his music is dance, and, like Elias, he puts an infectious pulse in every note. Never showy, he plays with an almost classical precision, and a very intricate harmonic and melodic inventiveness that you have to listen closely to follow.
Both artists demonstrated a simple truth: the music of their countries, drawing on a culture rich with inspiration, makes for music that brings great joy to the hearts of those who listen.
It is fair to say that San Francisco and the Bay Area are now among the leading showcases of Latin music in the U.S. With these concerts from SF Jazz, along with young players like Diana Gameros and exciting groups like Kato Vento, this is a town with a distinct Latin beat. And the music is just starting, in a multi-generational wave of the most fantastic kind. And thank you San Francisco Jazz for bringing us the greatest fall of Latin jazz that we could have imagined.

Ken Vermes writes as Jazz Spy

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