Danilo Pérez: From Panama to Chicago, with love

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Friday September 19, 2014

From Border Radio

Danilo Pérez: From Panama to Chicago, with love
By: Don Macica

I’ve been meandering my way through this thing called the music business for nearly 30 years. It’s really the only thing I know how to do, and it’s certainly the only thing I want to do. I’ve seen a lot of excess and stupidity in that time, and participated in my share. More often, though, I’ve simply been lucky that working in this area in one capacity or another has continually exposed me to wonderful experiences and terrific artists.

One of those artists is the Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Pérez. I was introduced to him in January of 1997 at the Jazz Educator’s Association conference in Chicago, and I was immediately struck by his warmth and generosity. I’ve seen him perform at three different incarnations of the Jazz Showcase; the present location, the space on Grand Avenue in River North and, before that, the faded and shabby elegance of the Blackstone Hotel before it was renovated. I even got to host an in-store performance by him in support of his CD Panamonk when I ran the music department at the sadly departed Borders store on Michigan Avenue.

It’s been over three years since I last saw him, so I was eagerly awaiting last night’s performance at the Jazz Showcase for a few months. I was also fortunate that the Afro-Latin publication Agúzate let me write a show preview and review of his recent Panama 500 album, which you can read here. Writing that piece forced me to sit down and really listen to Panama 500 closely, and I was richly rewarded.

Pérez is as inventive as ever as a pianist and improviser, but he’s also still the generous individual that I met nearly 20 years ago. His band on this visit includes his long-time drummer Adam Cruz (phenomenal as always) and two fresh young musicians from Jerusalem. Bassist Tal Gamlieli stepped up solidly in place of Ben Street, and Roni Eytan’s harmonica evoked at various times the string arrangements from Panama 500, hints of Panamanian style accordion and even tropical bird calls. Danilo led all three musicians in what was clearly a joyous adventure, onstage and off.

Much of the evening was devoted to Panama 500, but the altered instrumentation and Pérez’s intense need to open doors and explore ideas guaranteed that the approach to those songs was imbued with improvisational twists and turns. The same goes for his deep forays into Monk and Dizzy. Two sets, two-plus hours of music, exquisite ‘til the very last note.

In preparing for my Agúzate article, I had the opportunity to ask Danilo a few questions about his art and what I have long suspected was a special relationship with Chicago.

To read the interview, click here