Barely into his 30s, Danilo Perez has already built a reputation in Chicago that musicians twice his age would kill for. The Panamanian-born pianist is an exacting player with an unsurpassed gift for combining the rhythms of jazz with those of Caribbean and South American music, and in a live setting he improvises on this hybrid with power and joy, sending audiences glowing into the night. But Perez’s spirited performances are only half the story. Since the mid-90s, he’s used his stage time to balance the increasingly ambitious compositional aims presented on his albums: on PanaMonk (Impulse) he explored the intriguing proposition that the compositions of Thelonious Monk have an inherent Latin feel, and on Central Avenue (Impulse) he began to explore his deepest roots, the folk music of Panama. The exciting if slightly uneven Motherland, released last week on Verve, is his farthest-reaching work since 1994’s The Journey (Novus). It includes two movements from Perez’s large-scale composition Suite of the Americas, which was commissioned by the city of Chicago for the 1999 Jazz Festival; both of them include melody lines that recall some of Steve Reich’s later work and feature Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza, who sang at the suite’s premiere and has since joined Perez’s quintet. Like that piece, Motherland celebrates both the diversity and the underlying commonalities of music in the New World–a theme emphasized by the cover photo, which shows Perez in front of the elegant Bridge of the Americas at the Panama Canal, the sole connection between the northern and southern continents. Perez’s quintet also stars saxist Donny McCaslin, a young veteran of groups led by Gary Burton and Maria Schneider who really comes into his own as an improviser on his own new disc, Seen From Above (Arabesque). Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.