With his fifth album as a bandleader, Motherland, Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez clearly displays the instrumental chops and melting-pot ethos that have made him a generational icon. Since his emergence in the mid-1980s with Dizzy Gillespie and Paquito D'Rivera, Pérez has hung with the legends, who have helped strengthen his talents as both a pianist and a composer. His earlier work as a sideman showed a young artist on a quest to create a personal hybrid, melding traditional jazz with his Latino heritage. By his 1992 debut as a frontman, he was well on his way to telling an amazing story with unprecedented virtuosity.
Now the 34-year-old dedicates himself to teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music and to his duties as a cultural ambassador for the Panamanian government while still performing as part of the Roy Haynes Trio and with his own group. With a refreshing attitude and musical point of view, he opens the gates to a rich tapestry of South American, Euro-Afro-Indo influences. His rousing composition "Suite for the Americas" tells it all, with a wide spectrum of sonic colors and textures. With Brazilian-born singer Luciana Souza using her voice as a poignant instrument to articulate wordless melodies, the neo-traditional acoustic texture and interplay Pérez conjures up fuse indigenous percussion instruments with the harmonies of Thelonious Monk, making Pérez's latest album one of his most exciting efforts to date.
Dizzy Gillespie believed that one day the music of the Western Hemisphere -- with all its diverse influences -- would come together with jazz as its thread. Pérez spent four years with Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra. Today he does his mentor proud, joining a young cast of creative visionaries like David Sanchez, Bobby Sanabria, and John Santos in helping the Latin jazz continuum evolve. To see what this new-millennium meshing is all about, check out Danilo Pérez & the Motherland Project for a gateway tour of border-blurring music from a world-class pianist.