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JAZZ REVIEW

Pianist Perez Puts Latin Beat Into His Reflections of Monk

September 14, 1996|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Panamanian-born pianist Danilo Perez told the small crowd on his opening night at the Jazz Bakery on Wednesday that the music he was about to play was "Thelonious Monk with rice and beans."

That description proved modest if not ironic as the Perez trio, playing from a new album titled "PanaMonk," did more than serve Monk with side dishes. Taking the meat from both the maestro's familiar creations and the not so familiar ones, Perez, bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Ray Ballard created new, often daring entrees cooked up with Latin rhythms and nouvelle harmonics.

Swinging and moaning at the keyboard in the manner of Keith Jarrett, Perez emphasized the percussive nature of Monk's canon, playing with sharp, chordal accents and offbeat, staggering phrases. He took time to develop his ideas, as when a line from "It Might as Well Be Spring" became a touchstone during the improvisation on Monk's "Reflections." His solos peaked and peaked again, often bridged by strong Latin dance themes.

Ballard's even gallop, frequently played on the drum rims or with bare hands, set a persistent, driving pace that gave Perez plenty of opportunity for percussive counterpoint. Though not heard on the new album, Ballard seems central to the group, continually pushing Perez to more detailed, more dynamic statements.

Monk's eclectic spirit was present in the music, even when the tunes moved to different beats. "Think of One" opened with Perez reaching inside the box of his instrument, repeatedly plucking a single note. Bassist Cohen joined this droning, Morse-code effect before Perez settled back into his seat to spread Monk's familiar theme lazily against the buzz. Instead of the slapstick harmonics Monk used, Perez created a minor-key feeling that imparted solemn weight to the usual knockabout lines.

Though Monk purists may have found fault with some of Perez's more rhythmic grooves, the audience's overwhelming response was certainly justified. Perez brings the same intense personality to the piano as his inspiration did.

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