Review Summary: If jazz were a UN summit...
It’s at about the time when the steel drums enter on opener “Daniela’s Chronicles” that you start to get what Danilo Perez is trying to achieve. Okay, so “trying to achieve” may be a bit pedantic because a benefit album or political statement Providencia
is not. Perhaps to understand what it is I mean, we must first understand that Perez is pretty much a hero in Panama. He serves as a cultural ambassador for the small Central American country, working with the UN and what not. If anyone paid any attention to my review of Ry Cooder’s collaboration with The Chieftains, San Patricio
, earlier this year (hint: you probably didn’t), basically what Providencia
is trying to achieve is that same effect; except tenfold. For the music seems to be a cultural mash-up of seeming disparate folk traditions, keys, scales, etcetera; in some vague attempt at a hippie love-in where “unity through diversity” isn’t, you know, bull***. Of course I exaggerate, admittedly, and I’m pretty positive there is no grand overarching “purpose” to this album, other than to push the ability of a pretty fantastic pianist (most famous perhaps for his work in the Wayne Shorter Quartet) and composer. But if this type of music were pedaling such ideologies, then move over Metropolis
because I’m sold.
In terms of modern jazz, in which any original material is bound to be in some form of fusion, Providencia resides on the more traditional side of things. Traditional in the sense that this is purely jazz. Not to sound pretentious, or vague for that, but simply put these are classically trained musicians playing their instruments in the “traditional” manner. Where the fusion comes in is composition. Those steel drums, the Indian influenced rhythm of alto saxophonist’s Rudresh Mahanthappa soloing on “The Oracle”, or even the Resphigi like woodwind melodies that open “The Bridge of Life Pt. I”. Each composition, even the arrangements of Panamanian standards, are literally stuffed to the brim with ideas. Little voices that are so intricately woven into the fabric of the album that it’s impossible to take it all in at once. This is an album that needs to, nay deserves to, be dissected on an intellectual level. Deserves mainly because the players are so strong, particularly from the front man.
It’s around the piano that Perez’ compositional idiom is structured. His arrangements follow a similar pattern to his piano parts, starting succinct and spatial, before slowly crescendoing into cacophony. And it isn’t necessarily a volume dynamic, though that occurs too, sometimes the climax results in a cluster of chords or the impossible quickening of a run, as that on the title track. It’s mainly in his chordal choices that Perez really stands out; creating that cluster effect that at times borders on chaotic and dissonant. But never does it come across as too
avant-garde; because despite this being a stimulating, intelligent album, it’s not an overbearing one. Instead these chaotic moments– the walls of notes if you will– form a skeletal frame to Providencia
that gives it an ebb and flow quality. For every impressively busy “Galactic Panama”, there’s a beautiful, graceful “Irremediablemente Solo”. For every “The Maze”, with its kinetic improvisational interplay between piano and sax, there is the down right smooth “Cobilla”.
So here we have another mashing of genres; though not in the hip indie manner. It’s more of a hi-I’m-on-drugs-and-I’m-in-the-Mahavishnu-Orchestra kinda way. But without the drugs. So really what that leaves is an album so tightly composed that it begs for attention. If you care to let it, Providencia
is the type of work from mid-career jazz pianist and composer that will floor you. Danilo Perez has crafted a legitimate contender for one of the most impressive records of the year. It’s colourful and exotically flavoured with many textures and secret passages hidden in the nooks and crannies of the compositions. Polyrhythms collide with folk melodies which collide with classical melodies which dissolve into a foray of progressive jazz. So move over Panama Canal... except you can’t because you’re a fixed waterway.