Tony Perez: From Enchantment and Timba to Full Force Jazz

Maurice Bottomley

Tony Perez

From Enchantment and Timba to Full Force Jazz

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2001-10-16

Although it is not easy to stand out in the crowded Latin jazz market, Tony Perez has some distinct advantages. His instrument is the piano and that finds favour with jazz fans who otherwise consider the Latin sound a little samey. Not only that but he has caught the eyes and ears of Chucho Valdes who has overseen his career and in 1998 appointed him as keyboardist to the ambassadorial group Irakere. Valdes is the big name in Cuban jazz and Perez is inevitably being hailed as a possible successor. It is early days but the potential is there.

Perez is 28 and hails from Sancti Spiritus. Though Cuban born and raised, he is much traveled, with a stint in Venezuela in the early '90s to his credit. Still on the move, the present recording was made in Mexico and his varied experience as composer, group leader, and Valdes-protégé shows through. This is a confident work for a debut effort that demonstrates a formidable technique and a willingness and ability to lead from the front.

If that sounds very Valdes-like, Perez is no pale copy. His tone is lighter, less folk-based and more akin to Cedar Walton or some of the younger American players than the sonorous and almost overwhelming approach of his patron. He shares with the maestro a taste for synthesizing different genres and for dizzying tempo shifts, but he is less aggressive even when, as he often is, flying up and down the keyboard at a terrifying rate. Already possessed of a wide stylistic repertoire, while very much a jazzman first and foremost, Perez is particularly at home with Palmieri/Colon Salsa standards and also has a good ear for the telling use of classical inflections. As a composer he is competent rather than inspired, but there are signs of future greatness in that department too.

As a player, he is already in the top flight. On pieces like "Jazzy" this gets a little too close to florid showing-off but mostly the technical brilliance is put to the service of the tunes rather than dominating them. Palmieri's "Picadillo" is as good a version as exists and a genuine fusion of jazz and Cuban forms. "Encanto" has overtones of J.S. Bach and enough pianistic imagination and dexterity to have devotees drooling. The contemplative "Analógico" shows that Perez can also use his talents sparingly but tellingly when the occasion warrants.

The mood is generally "up" as is the tempo. The jaunty "Ninon" or the seventies jazz-funk of "La Diferencia" are the best examples. A lively brass section adds the expected colour. If, like me, you tire of salsa style horns quickly, there is the bonus of some more than usually individuated soloing. Alfred Thompson on tenor sax cuts through the unbridled energy of "La Danza" with a very poised chorus, while elsewhere the flautist Reynaldo Perez adds both nuance and texture. Trumpeters Alexander Brown and Mario Hernandez also make the most of any spotlight that comes their way.

There are a couple of vocal tracks and "Mi China", particularly, will appeal to those who prefer their Cuban jazz more Cuban than jazzy. Whatever the emphasis, Perez himself is never anything less than the complete modernist, exploring every twist and turn suggested by the melody. As with most sets in the genre, the rhythms are exuberant, a little cluttered in places, but largely irresistible. The piano is at all times the major focus, though. More ballads and meditative pieces might have fleshed out the picture, but the gentle "Kay'Nah" that signs off the album perhaps is sufficient evidence that Perez does have his introspective side. Most listeners will be happy enough with his expressive and engagingly energetic preferences.

This album won't change the direction of Latin jazz. It does however add another name to the growing roster of performers who cannot be ignored when discussing the subject. If Perez represents the next generation then the tradition is in good, and highly skilled, hand. If Latin styles become, as I think they might, the dominant influence on 21st century jazz expect Tony Perez to have some considerable say in the matter.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

Trey Anastasio sings the new "Everything's Right" with the ladies harmonizing behind him to generate both an uplifting anthem of personal empowerment and a melodic jam vehicle that brings the entire audience into a collective groove of spirit family unity.

It's All Hallows Eve in the City of Angels, and the historic Wiltern Theater is the place to be as guitarist Trey Anastasio leads his solo band into town for a celebratory performance. The show isn't drawing fans from all over the country as when Anastasio's primary band Phish played Halloween in Las Vegas last year, where the promise of a musical costume set saw the band deliver a truly transcendent performance for the ages with David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. But this show from the Trey Anastasio Band is still the top Halloween ticket in California, drawing in fans from across the state for what remains a relatively rare visit from a musical hero whom many fans consider to possess his angelic aura.

Keep reading... Show less

"I'm proud of coming in second for my high school's alumnus of the year award to Mitt Romney. I would've liked to have beaten him, but he has lost enough for a lifetime."

So what the living heck is the gang up to now? Well, they won't tell us, but boy is it exciting.

You see, for Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott, each new phase of their career is marked by some sort of wonderful thing. Their first two albums together under the band name Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., gained a small but respectable cult following, but with 2015's self-titled re-envisioning, the guys streamlined their pop sensibilities into something that required a bigger studio budget, resulting in the biggest hit of their career with the song "Gone". They even placed in PopMatters Best Pop Album ranking for that year, which is no small feat.

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

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