Danilo Pérez: Providencia

The Panamanian pianist offers his richest and most detailed recording.

Danilo Pérez


Label: Mack Avenue
US Release Date: 2010-08-31
UK Release Date: 2010-08-30

Pianist Danilo Pérez has been around for a long time, first known as the youngest member of Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra, then acclaimed for several lovely recordings in the 1990s that brought Panamanian elements to the jazz trio or quartet format, and then as the pianist in Wayne Shorter’s unparalleled 21st century quartet. Pérez works in the mainstream of jazz, but he has always shown a flair for bringing fresh elements to the music’s center.

Providencia is Pérez’s most eclectic and adventurous recording, sweeping in a wide range of instrumentation and style, one which reconciles a woodwind quintet, breezy scat vocals, the acid-toned and forward-leaning solo style of alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, a dash of steelpan drums, and Pérez’s own post-bop via Latin Jazz piano trio style. Depending on your taste for this kind of thing, Providencia is either a rich and varied meal or a crazy mess of styles. What it is not is staid or overmodest. This is a recording that seeks to blow jazz up to a global scale. To these ears, it hugely succeeds.

A good amount of Providencia is written music with a cinematic scope and relatively little improvisation. “Bridge of Life”, for example, is a two-part composition that features woodwind quintet (oboe, clarinet, flute, bassoon, French horn). The openings of each piece could be a dash of Stravinsky or Copeland with the piano trio entering into dynamic dialogue with the written parts. The piano solo on “Part One” is framed by beautifully interwoven writing for the whole group. Little classically fused jazz is this balanced or natural.

The title track, “Providencia”, features the wordless vocals of Sara Serpa, in unison with a flute, riding over the leader’s quintet (with Ben Street’s bass, Adam Cruz on drums, and Jamey Hadded and Ernesto Diaz on percussion). This track is much more complex than the usual “head-solos-head” jazz composition, with a long piano/vocal introduction giving way to a full band development that reshuffles the instruments into a variety of groupings, playing carefully written arrangements. Equally cinematic in scope and complexity is the opener, “Daniela’s Chronicles”; written for Pérez’s daughter, the tune begins with baroque counterpoint and charming folk melodies, moving through a series of moods and styles that includes but does not focus entirely on the kind of modern post-bebop jazz with which Pérez is most associated.

Providencia, however, is not some kind of gussied-up pseudo-classical crossover recording. Equally prominent are the tracks featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa’s brazen flurries of alto saxophone excitement. “Galactic Panama” has the joyous groove of Panamanian music and a plump and pleasing melody, but the two improvisers trade back and forth with playful daring, resulting finally in a stuttering, edgy collective solo. There are two freely improvised duets between Pérez and Mahanthappa (“The Maze”) proving the pair is equally adept at stabbing urgency and impressionistic balladry. And joining these two performances is a full-band groove on which Mahanthappa and Serpa play in hip harmony. “Cobilla” features Pérez using some electric piano as well as acoustic, further expanding his options.

Happily, Pérez does not ignore the core of his band—his trio. “Historia de Amor”, a Latin jazz standard by Carlos Eleta Almaran, swings to a pulsing Latin groove, and “Irremediablemente Solo” by Avelino Muñoz is a whispered ballad showcase for bassist Ben Street. These tunes are a good reminder that Providencia has a center thriving on the touch and feel of a strong pianist. That said, on these trio features, Pérez remains a team player, hiding his own technique for perhaps the first time.

Providencia is such a success because it finds the leader less involved in pure pianism than in layering a wonderful band into an arresting spectrum of shades that serve his dynamic compositions. Like a great kaleidoscope, this recording invites you back for more and more variations. Your ear will catch a new detail each time out. Amidst all this listening, you will be hard pressed to find a single cliché.

When an inventive mainstream jazz musician like Danilo Pérez is able to work in the tradition but avoid cliché, then something is going right. The center of jazz—which is indeed more and more an international thing—is in good hands with this artist and his cinematic vision for our great art form.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.