The current explosion in neo-Latin jazz has been set off largely by restless, brilliant pianists -- the Cuban virtuoso Chucho Valdés and the Panamanian wizard Danilo Perez, to name just two. Their music is highly evolved and relentlessly multicultural -- a spicy gumbo of Latin American, African and hard-bopping U.S. strains that can both enthrall and overwhelm a listener with its sheer energy. No protracted Miles Davis silences for these hombres: The whole idea is to cook until you drop.
On Sunday night, Danilo Perez brought the kitchen with him to the Boulder Theater, if not all the usual sous-chefs. His bold and much-praised new CD, Motherland (Verve), is a wide-ranging musical tribute to the Americas that employs a dizzying array of violinists, trumpeters, saxophonists and singers, along with almost everybody in the Western Hemisphere who's ever struck a gourd with a stick or a drumhead with a palm. On Sunday, Perez's touring band, dubbed "The Motherland Project," turned out to be a pared-down aggregation composed of the pianist, drummer Adam Cruz, veteran bassist Essiet Essiet, New York-based saxophonist Donny McCaslin and a heavenly, native Brazilian vocalist named Luciana Souza, who can morph her silken alto voice into shapes and textures the angels might envy. Happy to say, this high-octane quintet has found its way on the road, and the Boulder concert was a model not only of fluent musical interplay but of concision. That's particularly striking, given the unfettered emotion of the material, which fuses jazz harmonics with everything from the excited palo rhythms of Nigeria, to the urgent street cries of Perez's beloved Panama City, to the mejorana folk styles of the Panamanian countryside.
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The pianist is himself a fountain of influences. His highly percussive, all-embracing style combines, among other things, the witty, angular bebop of Thelonious Monk, the late-night energy of Latin dance music and the stateliness of the Spanish classics. That Perez manages all this with such astonishing grace and seeming ease is a contemporary wonder. Meanwhile, every time Souza opens her mouth, starlight comes floating out.
Hey, Bubba. Lose the slide guitar for a spell and send the cowboy hat out for blocking. Nashville, Tennessee -- that's right, the home of the Grand Ole Opry -- now has its own jazz label. Despite that city's pretense to inclusion, this is a miracle on the order of Ernest Tubb turning up as a sideman for John Coltrane. If we can judge by a sampling of the first three CDs on the new Hillsboro Jazz imprint (out of the Springhill Music Group, distributed by EMD), this is good news for diversity in Music City. Pianist Beegie Adair's Dream Dancing is an adept tribute to Cole Porter; French-American violinist Antoine Silverman (Blue Moods) plays with heartbreaking passion; and the wonderfully named guitarist Jack Jezzrow (Jazz Elegance) has learned a thing or two from Charlie Christian and Jim Hall en route to a highly fluent style of his own. Silverman's CD, by the way, features Stefan Karlson, the Swedish pianist who lived and worked in Denver for five years. Patsy Cline, Nashville's real crossover genius, would likely approve.