Danilo Perez: Motherland

For the better part of his career, Dizzy Gillespie talked about his desire to help unify the music of Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas. One of his proteges, Panamanian pianist and composer Danilo Perez, worked in Dizzy’s United Nations Orchestra; in his solo career he has helped to carry on Dizzy’s dream. This latest CD is Perez’s most ambitious project to date. It features an international cast interpreting his challenging, original music, fusing elements of jazz, folkloric and dance music.

The musical line-up includes three singers who are about to emerge as stars in their own right. Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza has no problem navigating the complex, odd-meter lines Perez has written for her. She uses her voice like an instrument on the tricky, wordless vocals of “Suite for Americas Pt. 1,” often in unison with violinist Regina Carter. Another vocalist who shows that singing in tune never goes out of style is Chilean-born Claudia Acuna, who wraps her beautiful alto around “Song to the Land.” Cameroonian bass guitarist Richard Bona sings with out-on-a-limb audacity on “Pan Africa” and “Prayer.” The latter is also notable for some fascinating background vocal parts.

This is not strictly a vocal collection, however. Throughout the CD Perez plays both acoustic and electric piano and his solos remind us that the piano is the most elegantly powerful percussion instrument. Other notable moments include Chris Potter’s darting soprano sax solo during “Suite for Americas Pt. 2,” Kurt Rosenwinkle’s long, across-the-bar guitar lines on “Panama Libre” and Diego Urcola and Regina Carter’s contrapuntal high-wire act on “Panama 2000.”

With such compelling original music, Perez, the singers and the soloists could have made a very good record by themselves. What makes this a great and important collection is the integration of various rhythms played by percussionists Luisito Quintero, Brian Blade, Antonio Sanchez and Ricaurte Villarreal. No question this CD will end up on many year-end best-of lists.

Larry Appelbaum

Larry Appelbaum is a Jazz Reference Specialist in the Music Division at the Library of Congress, where he discovered the tapes of the 1957 Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane concert at Carnegie Hall that were subsequently issued by Blue Note Records in 2005. He is a longtime radio host on WPFW-FM in Washington, D.C.