Across the Crystal Sea

Across the Crystal Sea marks a departure for pianist Danilo Perez, 43, an intrepid explorer of turbulent musical waters on myriad leader and sideman projects for the past two decades. An alumnus of bands led by pioneer Pan-Americanists Dizzy Gillespie and Paquito D'Rivera, Perez played a key role in conceptualizing the multilingual tilt of '90s jazz through a series of Verve and Impulse albums that documented his ingenious admixture of folkloric beats and melodies from various South American and Caribbean cultures -- particularly Panama, his homeland -- with harmonic and rhythmic dialects drawn from a long timeline of hard-core modern jazz. These days, Perez is best known for his eight-year association with the Wayne Shorter Quartet, in which he creates tabula rasa improvisations on Shorter pieces with titles like On the Milky Way Express and As Far as the Eye Can See. On Crystal Sea Perez navigates a smoother surface -- i.e., a plush suite of charts by Claus Ogerman, the 77-year-old "light classical" maestro whose past credits include gems by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Hank Jones, and Diana Krall. Here Ogerman orchestrates themes by choral composer Hugo Distler, Sibelius, De Falla, Rachmaninoff, and Massenet. He also offers a single original and dresses up two less-traveled "standards" for reigning diva Cassandra Wilson, here wearing her Shirley Horn hat, to interpret. In complete command of the forms, Perez imparts a tidal ebb-and-flow, tone-painting through the ravishing melodies with meticulously calibrated touch. Playing their roles to perfection, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash sustain the lyric simmer.

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