Anyone who’s seen Danilo Perez play live–with his own group or with saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s quartet–knows the intensity he brings to the stage. Unfortunately that fire’s been absent from the Panamanian pianist’s last two recordings. Motherland, from 2000, is overstuffed with ideas, as Perez attempts to draw correspondences between too many North and South American song forms and gets bogged down in this formal task. The new album, …Till Then (Verve), isn’t as wearyingly ambitious, but it still emphasizes lyricism and introspection at the expense of explosiveness. Perez interprets tunes largely associated with pop vocalists (Brazilian singer Chico Buarque, Cuban nueva cancion legend Silvio Rodriguez, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Ruben Blades, Milton Nascimento) and there’s a poplike concision to many of the performances. But by keeping the songs short–most come in at four minutes or less–he denies himself the room to dig in and explore the material. That said, his ballad playing is full of gorgeous harmonies, and his interaction with both of the rhythm sections on the album (John Patitucci and Brian Blade from the Shorter quartet and Ben Street and Adam Cruz, who’ll perform with him this week) is marked by exquisite empathy and subtle shifts in rhythm and density. But it’s onstage that Perez shows his full range. And there’s hope yet for an album that captures all this: the band is looking to record next Saturday and Sunday’s performances for a possible live release. Tuesday through Thursday, December 2 through 4, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, December 5 and 6, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, December 7, 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.