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Bassist John-Carlos Perea's Native American-inspired jazz fusion

Wednesday, Nov 21 2001
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A so-called "half-breed" of Apache and Irish-American descent, Perea draws his inspiration from contemporary powwows, the popular intertribal ceremonies where song-On his debut album First Dance, electric bassist John-Carlos Perea stirs up a smooth, fat sound with a lyrical drive that transcends jazz fusion clichés -- a remarkable feat given that Perea's music can only be described with the dreaded f-word. But fear not, dear readers: This young Bay Area bandleader pushes beyond the wanky self-indulgence of old-school fusion to forge a new kind of multiethnic groove.

A so-called "half-breed" of Apache and Irish American descent, Perea draws his inspiration from contemporary powwows, the popular intertribal ceremonies where song-and-dance traditions are passed down from one generation to the next. As the bassist explains in the liner notes to his album, young people at such events take part in "a special first dance, which reinforces the responsibilities of a pow-wow dancer as they pertain to the preservation and evolution of American Indian culture." This CD, Perea writes, is "the aural equivalent of my first dance."

Following the ritual of the powwow, Perea bookends his recording with "Opening Prayer" and "Closing Prayer," a pair of haunting yet hopeful ballads that feature the leader performing original melodies on cedar flute in a traditional North Plains style. In between the two tunes, he cranks up the energy, at times letting loose as a vocalist, belting out classic Indian falsetto howls like an arena rock star.

His band rocks, too. On "Blues for My Blood Quantum," saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh punches blazing solos into edgy jazz-rock rhythms. On "Three for Phil McGee," guitarist Chris Gonzalez-Clarke drops funky chords into a shuffling N'awlins beat that saxophonist Francis Wong blows into the cosmos. In the midpoint track, a version of John Coltrane's "Naima," percussionist Mario Barrera (on congas and timbales) bounces rhythms off of the drumbeats of Elliot Humberto Kavee. Throughout the record, the John-Carlos Perea Ensemble exhibits a flowing group dynamic, whether the members are practicing quiet introspection or screaming from the mountaintops.

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Sam Prestianni

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