9. Pan-American rhythm

Panamonk, Danilo Perez, 1996.

This isn’t purely a study in rhythm but rhythm is at the heart of the project. Danilo Perez loved Monk, always a good start. He was gripped by the way his rhythmic strength is a key to understanding his compositions. And then came the idea, as a Panamanian, to see how they might stand up to a deliberate rhythmic refresh from the South.

The result was one of the most joyful Monk projects, standing with, say Arthur Blythe’s equally rhythmically charged Light Blue. This one never fails to lift my mood. And the title track bottles the spirit that does that every time you lift the cork.

Hard to believe it’s already 25 years old. I still think of Perez as up and coming, somehow. He’s made great music since, of course, much of it while touring with Wayne Shorter. I’ve seen him with Shorter more than once, as well as an early gig at the Pizza Express in London that pre-dates this CD, not to mention an unforgettable one later on at the same venue with Roy Haynes and John Patitucci. But this session, with either Terri Lyne Carrington or Jeff Watts on drums and a young Avishai Cohen – soon to get a call from Chick Corea – on bass still stands out as an early landmark in his discography.

The drummers – Watts on this track – are crucial. I’m a sucker for pianists playing with/against powerful drummers (Don Pullen’s trio with Tony Williams comes to mind) and this whole session is so charged. The sound is brilliant and bright throughout, which somehow adds urgency to the music, the tempos fast, the beats from the piano placed just so.

The Monk tunes that make up most of the rest of the set work brilliantly, too. And this is the recording you need if want to hear a pianist play Evidence (left hand) and Four in One (right hand) at the same time. OK, a bit of a party trick, but that’s some trick. Other touches, like the lovely full-Latin keyboard flourishes in the coda of Bright Mississipi, always bring a smile. That arrangement surfaced again on a recording with Haynes a few years later. But this Perez-penned piece remains a favourite: the same compelling rhythmic priorities, and a thumping melody of the pianist’s own that sounds, to me, genuinely Monkish. And fresh as paint a quarter century on.

Full album

Why the No 9? 

This is one of a series running (in no particular order) through 2021. I explain a bit what it’s doing here.

And I’m going to collect them all on this page.

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