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Danilo Perez: Across the Crystal Sea

This lush, orchestral collaboration between pianist Perez and the prolific composer-arranger Claus Ogerman recalls two similarly classy and evocative encounters from the ’80s between Ogerman and Michael Brecker: 1982’s Cityscape and 1988’s Claus Ogerman Featuring Michael Brecker. By drawing on familiar classical themes for his impressionistic pieces here, Ogerman has come up with an intriguing canvas for the Panamanian pianist to paint on. And Perez responds by revealing his more lyrical side on haunting numbers like the title track (after a theme by early 20th-century classical composer Hugo Distler), the delicate and wistful “If I Forget You” (based on a theme by Sergei Rachmaninoff) and Ogerman’s own graceful and enchanting “Another Autumn.”

Backed by a dream rhythm tandem of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash, they stretch into some decidedly jazzy territory on the easy midtempo swing section from “Rays and Shadows,” Ogerman’s extrapolation on a Jean Sibelius theme that is fueled at one point by an irrepressible Ray Brown-inspired walking bass groove. McBride breaks out the tumbao factor on the clave-fueled “The Purple Condor,” which is based on a theme by Manuel de Falla and is further colored by percussionist Luis Quintero. And Perez showcases the more dynamic side of his exceptional pianism on “The Saga of Rita Joe,” a lengthy piece based on a theme by Jules Massenet that features some lengthy improv excursions built into the arrangement.

Special guest vocalist Cassandra Wilson weaves her alluring spell on a dreamy rendition of “Lazy Afternoon” and a gorgeous “(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings,” both greatly enhanced by the quiet power of Ogerman’s stirring string arrangements (precisely the same kind of magic that he worked on past encounters with the likes of Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim). Mellow, inviting and at times highly affecting, it’s an ideal late-night album.

Originally Published