It is immediately evident that things are different from the 1996 version of PanaMonk and indeed different from ‘anything even remotely Thelonious Monk’ from the molten translucence of Danilo Pérez’s dizzying atmospherics. The pianist weaves deft tapestries which seem to suggest that anytime now a Thelonious Monk song might break. The tantalising chopped melodic lines simmer and set up mystifying smoke screens that, every once and a while, clear to reveal something beautiful spun out a Thelonious Monk Melody. This glorious subterfuge continues after the initial melody where “Monk’s Mood” became “PanaMonk” and “Mercedes Mood” became “Monk’s Mood” again. Then the Danilo Pérez caresses the keys for the last time, bathed in that soft light and notes disappeared into the air, but it was only a cue for Ben Street and Terri Lyne Carrington to join him on stage.
You know at once when you’re in the presence of royalty and even before Terri Lyne Carrington sits down to play you remember that just as her grandfather drummed with the legendary Fats Waller and Chu Berry, Terri Lyne Carrington has carried on that tradition of drumming with the gods when she graced the bands of Dizzy Gillespie, Pharoah Sanders, Lester Bowie, Stan Getz, James Moody, Herbie Hancock and, shortly before her untimely demise, Geri Allen as well. Her painterly style of drumming means that she wields her sticks brushes and mallets like instruments with which she draws from an enormous palette of sound, thus to paint a canvas, or contribute to one that she is creating with one or more artists. In this instance she is sharing that task with Ben Street. The bassist is a study in contrast from the other bassist who played this night: Ricky Rodriguez.
Ben Street is almost introspective. Throughout the night he is partly in the shadow of the arc lights. It’s not that is not featured; rather the nature of the music requires that he – and Miss Carrington – align themselves with the prevailing quietude of Danilo Pérez’s forays into the world of Thelonious Monk; a world that is uniquely, well “Danilo Pérez”. It is a world devoid of unnecessary histrionics. And yet as Danilo Pérez pursues his unique view of Thelonious Monk’s music he uses the piano to create subtle self-portraits and vast panoramas. At the same time he is introverted; a miniaturist, infusing heroic improvisations with an intimacy and an emotional intensity which can only be described as the poetry of feeling. And, almost magically, Terri Lyne Carrington and Ben Street are right there with him as he sculpts the evening’s repertoire.
It is almost three hours since this remarkable evening was set alight by Alfredo Rodriguez. He and Danilo Pérez approached their instrument from dramatically different ends of pianism. Mr Rodriguez was the more physical of the two pianists, somehow possessed of tumultuous energy. Danilo Pérez, while an equally brilliant technician, driven by the concentrated and volatile nature of his imagination, is a benchmark of delicacy of touch and elegance of conception, swathed in quietly shimmering passage work; his unforced rubato effortlessly conveying the music’s evanescent brilliance. And we remain ever grateful both these pianists, who with their unique trios took us inside the music and held us there for what seems like an eternity; one that we will not forget in a long time.