Ellis Marsalis & Danilo Perez
by Piotr Michalowski
From the June, 2004 issue
I do not know who decided to pair two extraordinary jazz pianists at this year's Summer Festival, but it is an inspired idea. Ellis Marsalis and Danilo Pérez are both regarded as modern jazz players, in the broadest sense of the term, and yet they offer musical contrasts as well as complements.
Marsalis comes from New Orleans, a town known for its eclectic music but sometimes also hobbled by a love of tradition. The patriarch of the Marsalis family is well schooled and has spent most of his adult life as a music professor, but he is clearly a modernist, whose roots definitely lie in bebop. As one might expect from someone almost past his seventh decade, his bop approach is tinged with older influences, and one can hear echoes of Teddy Wilson and Nat Cole in the way that he treats the piano. He loves to swing, but he often does it with an elegance frequently lacking among younger players. Marsalis is often gentle, but he can also be very strong without seeming aggressive.
Danilo Pérez, half the age of the man from New Orleans, was born in Panama. He came to this country to study at the Berklee College of Music and has remained here ever since. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he has not sworn allegiance to the past, and continues to explore new avenues of expression. He quickly made a name for himself as a sideman and leader and began to release a series of excellent recordings. His third release, imaginatively titled Panamonk, which came out in 1996, established him as a major new voice who has an original way with jazz. Although he has firmly embraced northern American jazz ways, Pérez has never turned his back on his southern heritage and continues to incorporate various Latin strains into his playing - not simply rhythmic patterns, but all the aspects of the many Caribbean and southern American musical traditions. His more angular
and more aggressive approach should contrast very nicely with the polished modern swing of Marsalis.
The Latin influence has always been prominent in New Orleans music, not so much in the overt use of patterns as in the underlying "Spanish tinge," as Jelly Roll Morton used to call it - a specific way of syncopating that reflects the rhythm of the clave. Marsalis also has it, and it will be interesting to hear the differences between the more overt Latin fusion of Pérez and the more subtle underlying southern elements in the music of the great New Orleans pianist.
Ellis Marsalis and Danilo Pérez are at the Power Center on Friday, June 18.
[Originally published in June, 2004.]
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