Danilo Pérez began forming his worldview – and aligning his music to it – ever since he came under the sphere of influence of Dizzy Gillespie. But it was when he became engaged in the latest iteration of Wayne Shorter’s ensemble. In fact he says so in the short note, tucked away in the ‘special mentions’ and ‘thank you’s’ for the album Crisálida. Mr Shorter gave this magnificent pianist and musician wings with the following words of encouragement: “write and play music the way you want your world to be.”
But Mr Pérez has been refining this ‘world view’ ever since he made his iconic album Panama 500 – probably even before 2014 when this album was released to mark the 500th anniversary of Spanish explorer Balboa crossing the Isthmus of Panama. With the kind of characteristic humility that marks his great artistry, Mr Pérez has titled this album Crisálida, which refers to the chrysalis; that stage in the emergence of a butterfly that is when the biggest transformation of the caterpillar takes place in an innocuous-looking pod affixed to the branch of a plant.
Meanwhile, transformation in Mr Pérez’s ‘world view’ is not merely taking place; his [and his music’s] spirit is being polished as if in the refining fire of The Divine, which means that it has already been formed like a shining diamond. This ‘world view’ and the music that emerges from it [the Crisálida] then is what we have on this monumental album. It was some years in the making and one of the two suites, “Fronteras Suite” was commissioned – and premiered – at Koerner Hall a few years ago – before this pandemic. This was roughly when he introduced us to his Global Messengers as well.
This superb ensemble – whose mélange is not that different from Mr Shorter’s own groups – was formed out of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute that was founded and directed by Mr Pérez. His students are now emulating the master on this ineffably beautiful repertoire, which is ensconced in the two four-movement suites – “La Muralla Suite” and the “Fronteras Suite”. And we navigate each of these works with Mr Pérez [and the Global Messengers] as our guides.
Mr Pérez is clearly ‘of the earth’. He seems to draw inspiration directly from its wispy mists and shadows of the elemental forests that rise out of the very sod from Panama and the rest of the world, in the wind that sweeps across the deserts of the Middle East – the cradle of world spirituality as we know it. But he does more than just breathe in the air dense with the moisture that feeds the teeming life of our planet; he looks deep into it and discerns its cry that demands to be heard. And he makes of this cry an artistic palimpsest here on Crisálida.
The first suite seems to peer into the depths of our planet. Its first movement asks us to “Rise from Love” and then walks us through the path of preservation made of this love. The Global Messengers, a string trio along with the mystical piano and percussion seems to provide the echo of the mystical and rhythmic heartbeat of the earth that Mr Pérez listens to and refracts it into his compositions recorded on this album. Naseem Alatrash’s cello provides continuo, the violin and the ‘voice’ of Layth Sidiq – enhanced immeasurably by the lead voice of Farayi Malek – is the cry of the earth, echoed by the laouto of Vasilis Kostas.
This is heard in the mighty glissandi from the strings, the daunting arpeggios off Mr Pérez’s pianism and the rugged thunder of percussion colourist Tareq Rantisi. The music unfolds like an elegant web of life linked by jazz, folk, tango, Middle-Eastern music and the chamber music style of the post-serialist 20th century conservatoire. But to describe it as such also gives the impression of over-cooking. This is certainly not so.
Musically-speaking Mr Pérez’s take on the lineage of all those styles of music has him summoning preternatural cries – tones and textures that seem to come from heartbeats and human speech and song. Miss Malek’s wonderful vocalise floats benignly over the sound of the string-driven ensemble that entwines with piano and percussion to add a rich and unpredictable harmonic [and rhythmic] foundation to the music. Percussionist Román Díaz adds mighty earthy rumbling with his batá, complemented by his chanting on “Rise from Love”, a beautiful chorale voiced by the Kalesama Children’s Choir of The Ark of the World, “Monopatía” and the aazan-like “Calling for the Dawn”.
The surprises, when they come, are effective but discreet: a gamelan like riff is played as pizzicato harmonics [by cello – and the piano], a delicate curlicue of a bass line [cello again] underpins what sounds like an Amazonian lament, a close-knit ensemble passage develops from a single phrase. Vocalastics by Erini and spoken word by Patricia Zárate Pérez on “Monopatía” enables this music to soar into the rarefied realm. Mr Pérez is brilliant, adding fills, punctuating long inventions with sharp two- or three-fingered stabs of the keys, and short, sculpted phrases with gliding frills en route to polishing these works into gleaming gems.
The members of the Global Messengers parley with the familiarity of old friends who met at the contemporary conservatoire, yet their playing always retains the sense of gracious etiquette associated with the kind of nobility akin to the rich associations of an ancient academy of learning where learned and brilliant art is created. Yet, nothing is forced or exaggerated or overly mannered: tempi, ensemble and balance – all seem effortlessly and intuitively right.
The string sound is lucid; the cello is especially so in the continuo, while the piano and percussion adds uncommon elegance, and an earthy thunder to the proceedings. Mr Pérez’s brief, evocative liner notes that accompany each movement act as our guide to the music. These are, in sum, sincere and poised accounts that echo with the voices and the rhythmic heartbeat of a planet teeming with life and that has spoken in whispers and shouts a very special way [first] to the composer Danilo Pérez – and [then to] the musicians as well as the Crisálida is given wings and takes flight…
Tracks – La Muralla [Glass Walls] Suite – 1: Rise from Love; 2: Monopatía [Pathways]; 3: Calling for the Dawn; Muropatía. Fronteras [Borders] Suite – 5: Adrift; 6: Al-Musafir Blues; 7: Kalesma [True Calling]; Unknown Destination
Musicians – Global Messengers – Danilo Pérez: piano; Farayi Malek: voice [1 – 5, 7, 8]; Vasilis Kostas: laouto; Layth Sidiq: violin and voice; Naseem Alatrash: cello; Tareq Rantisi: percussion.
Released – 2022
Label – Mack Avenue [MAC 1178]
Runtime – 50:10
Featured photos of Danilo Pérez at Koerner Hall, Toronto by Danilo Navas