Across the Crystal Sea

Sep 24, 2008 at 12:00 am

Danilo Perez is a wunderkind among today's jazz pianists. He doesn't play freeform, but he's nimble in just about any form, whether swinging hard and fragmenting a theme by Monk or bouncing on a folk melody from his native Panama. Moreover, his dazzling reflexes and facility for stretching out have made him in an equal in the brilliant Wayne Shorter Quartet of recent years. Now, there's a group that borders on freedom. So what's with Perez teaming up with conductor-arranger Claus Ogerman, king of gauzy strings and middle tempos, veteran of the CTI label's heyday and numerous Carlos Jobim sessions (and more recently Diana Krall's hit The Look of Love LP)? On the surface, this makes as much sense as lead boots for Speedy Gonzalez.

But this disc is about getting below the surface. Perez's way of sinking into a tune is all the more apparent when he slows down. We know he's great when he's fired up to red-hot, but he's darn good — without getting overly sentimental — at a slow burn on Ogerman's variations on Sibelius, Rachminoff and the like.

However, the high points of the disc — sorry Danilo — are the two guest vocal spots from Cassandra Wilson, where music downshifts from slow to slower to even slower still. Cassandra has never sounded so much an heir to the late Shirley Horn's title as the queen of seductive slow-mo. On "Lazy Afternoon," Wilson works her way through all the lyrics with just the orchestra backing her before Perez, bass and drums come in just for a brief interlude; Wilson has at the last verse again, and Perez and Co. tiptoe back into the tune to finish it off just that simply. On the disc's other standard, "(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings," Wilson and the instrumentalists follow a similar approach, with a judicious dab of an ethereal background chorus as sweetener. —W. Kim Heron

The Wayne Shorter Quartet (with Perez, drummer Brian Blade and bassist John Patituci), augmented by the Imani Winds, perform Saturday, Sept. 27, at Hill Auditorium, 825 N. University Ave., Ann Arbor. The tour celebrates Shorter's recent 75th birthday.

W. Kim Heron is the editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].