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Oscar Perez: "Afropean Affair" (Chandra 8094)

by Janine Santana

Originally from Queens, pianist Oscar Perez studied both classical music and jazz. He focused on jazz because he was able to acquire more work in nightclubs than concert halls. Yet his classical music training comes through in his original compositions. The title work of the present recording, “Afropean Affair” is a commissioned suite from Chamber Music America which combines themes of the past, present and future of music from African, European and jazz sources.  While some of the press material claims that Perez is creating a new musical form, I hear this music as a continuation of the traditions that have made Latin jazz a vibrant part of the scene.

The first tune is titled “The Illusive Number”. Each instrumentalist introduces a new time signature into the piece. Despite these leaps, it is a cohesive piece where each variation in mood flows easily into the next. Greg Glassman presents a tasteful horn solo. The percussion section manned by Jerome Jennings’ drums and Emiliano Velario’s congas lock into each other exceptionally well. A well supported sax solo by Stacey Dillard flies freely before gliding back into a lock with the other players before diving into yet another time change. The conga solo is well executed, if a bit restrained. "Canaria" has a military march in the introduction, then infuses the flavor of Spain with Perez on Fender Rhodes. Flugelhorn and rhythm section support the transition between the march and swing feel of this piece. Dillard’s sax enters the conversation with a soulful interpretation while the rhythm section supports beautifully with minimal accents. These musicians are well in tune with Perez’s ideas as they move right with him emotionally through the piano solo.

"A Brother’s World" opens with lush piano. The piece is a warm tribute to Perez’s chosen band of brothers (and one sister) who interpret his music. There are sections in this piece where trumpet and sax ride the same tone. Sometimes this doesn’t work, but here I like it. Following the spacious and sweeping mood of that piece is the vibrant "Paths and Streams". The tune accurately captures the meandering and quick rhythmic flow of a woodland scene. The bass lines dance while firmly supporting a light and playful horn section.

The three movements of “The Afropean Suite” close out the disc. The opening movement is named “Cosas Lindas Que Viven Ahora” (which loosely translates as “pretty things that are living now”) and it has a pretty, delicate opening that falls into a strong, rhythmic flow. Charenee Wade provides a superb vocal. As the piece builds, the sax expertly pushes the energy still more forward. There is also strong and tasty conga work in Valerio’s solo. The second movement, “Last Season’s Sorrow” enters with shakers and rainsticks evoking a feeling of lament. The piano hints at the memories of the waltz influenced dansons of Cuba’s elegant past even as it flirts with the mingling of classical and jazz elements, eventually leaning heavily into the jazz influences. The combination of Wade’s vocals with the horn lines works very well and the piece includes a classy bass solo by Anthony Perez. The final movement, “A New Day Emerging” contains mesmerizing and driving Afro-Cuban percussion moving back and forth with fluid horn and vocal lines. Organic horn solos lift up the tune, driven again by a highly charged percussive drive.

I smiled as I listened to the close of the suite. I hear this music as the absorption of ancient ideas and rhythms being utilized to entice the progression of the music for this generation—just as it has always done.