Danilo Perez Sr. steals spotlight from son, 911 Mambo
July 30, 2005
BY JOHN LITWEILER
Thursday's concert at Millennium Park promised to be a winner, since it starred piano favorite Danilo Perez returning to Chicago to join the exciting 911 Mambo Orchestra, those hard-core Latin jazz heroes. What made the concert special, though, was a performer whose name was lower on the billing: Danilo Perez Sr., a charismatic singer from Panama whose expressive voice and rhythmic lilt lifted the concert into fresh realms of swing and energy.
This was the third "Made in Chicago: A Jazz Celebration" concert, and that series title fits nobody better than 911 Mambo. Veteran leader-singer Angel Melendez has developed a crack ensemble of Chicago musicians whose precision and power are exceptional.
The music he scored on this night was rhythmically busy, built over thick layers of complex Afro-Cuban percussion; its brass-saxophone colors called for unusual skills, especially those many-noted, unison trumpet lines way up in the stratosphere register. With such mastery, it's no wonder that the band's first album was nominated for a Grammy Award this year.
The first set belonged to 911 Mambo, which featured two skillful singers, Mike Maldonado and Lina Marie Perez. Most songs were made of two-bar riffs in two-chord, call-response forms, and at times the way the separate trumpet, trombone and sax section riffs meshed with each other, while rhythm-section patterns intersected, suggested a big-band machine that was mighty indeed. Horn players occasionally emerged from the ensemble to solo or to reply to the vocalists.
Danilo Perez and his father joined 911 Mambo for the second set. As soon as he began, it was clear that Perez Sr. was an electrifying performer whose long, rhythmically liberated lines glided and dipped over the charging band. Was it father Perez's graceful swing that, by his second song, had the audience dancing in the aisles? As his son accompanied on piano, Perez Sr. sang "Besame Mucho" out of tempo, a showpiece with dynamic shadings and a Hollywood climax, before the band entered to provide slow, swaying rhythms and muted colors to this minor-key romance.
Danilo Jr. opened by forming a trio with Panamanian congueros Recuarte Villareal and crowd-pleasing 9-year-old Milagros Blades Romero. One of Perez Jr.'s arrangements was a suite that showcased the five percussionists and his own romantic, harmonically provocative piano. Another began as a Latinized Thelonious Monk medley and mutated into both an eccentric solo piano feature, including a fancy neo-boogie, and a rousing riff theme with all vocalists in harmony and the band in full scream. Such leaps of musical logic are by no means unusual for the younger Perez. His senses of color and texture made his impulses a pleasure this evening, and the interpretations by 911 Mambo and his father were especially delightful.
John Litweiler is a Chicago freelance writer.