The Panamanian-born pianist found "Across the Crystal Sea" to be the biggest challenge of his career--and one of its highlights. "It was a big test for me," says Perez. "My experience with Wayne has taught me to go to unknown places. But when it came to working with Claus, it was another kind of adventure. . . . As the musical director, he provided me with both a story and a landscape, and then told me, 'I want you to paint.'" "Across the Crystal Sea" features Perez in a trio with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash, augmented by percussionist Luis Quintero. Vocalist Cassandra Wilson performs on "Lazy Afternoon" and "(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings," the album's sole standards.
The remaining six tracks are Ogerman's, which he says are "based on classical themes I've known all my life and have always wanted to adapt and record." In addition to his original composition "Another Autumn," Ogerman drew on themes by Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Massenet, Manuel de Falla, and choral composer Hugo Distler. Producer Tommy LiPuma knew and loved Claus Ogerman's work with Antonio Carlos Jobim, beginning in the 1960s, and especially his "outrageously great" 1965 Bill Evans Trio album, "With Symphony Orchestra," "where Claus took classical themes and used them as vehicles for Bill to play on."
When LiPuma and Ogerman met in 1966, "we found a kinship with each other that started a 42-year friendship." They later collaborated on nearly a dozen projects, beginning in 1976 with the triple-platinum "Breezin'" and two other George Benson recordings; Joao Gilberto's 1977 classic "Amoroso;" three Ogerman solo discs, including "Cityscape" with Michael Brecker; "Sleeping Gypsy" by Michael Franks (1977); Dr. John's "City Lights" (1978); and Diana Krall's 2001 album, "The Look of Love."
In 2001 LiPuma, who'd already produced four CDs with Perez, approached the pianist about doing an orchestral album and at the same time sent Perez's recordings to Ogerman. "It took a few years, but Claus called me, told me how fantastic Danilo was and that he was starting to put some material together," says LiPuma. "We decided on the same formula as the Bill Evans album." The ravishing results may be heard in "Across the Crystal Sea," a tour de force for Danilo Perez and, for his producer, "one of my personal favorites" from his own distinguished discography.
Danilo Perez was born in Panama on December 29, 1965 and began his musical studies at age three; by ten he was studying classical piano at the National Conservatory of Music. Perez earned a bachelor's degree in electronics and came to the United States in the early 1980s, eventually landing at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he has lived ever since. He completed his studies in jazz composition and worked with Terence Blanchard, Jon Hendricks, and Paquito D'Rivera before joining Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra in 1989 for a four-year stay.
Perez debuted as a leader with "Danilo Perez" in 1992, followed by "The Journey," both for RCA/Novus. He teamed with producer Tommy LiPuma for "Panamonk" in 1996 (called "a masterpiece of jazz synthesis" by the New York Times); the Grammy nominees "Central Avenue" (1998) and "Motherland" (2000); and 2003's "Till Then." The pianist also released two CDs through ArtistShare: "Danilo Perez Trio Live at the Jazz Showcase" (2005) and "Danilo Perez Big Band/Panama Suite" (2006).
Perez has been a member of the Wayne Shorter Quartet since 2000 and appears on three of the saxophonist's CDs--"Footprints Live!" (2001) and the Grammy winners "Alegria" (2003) and "Beyond the Sound Barrier" (2005).
Currently, Perez is Artistic Director of the Panama Jazz Festival, which he founded in 2003, and President of the Danilo Perez Foundation, founded in 2005 to promote Panamanian art and culture. He serves as the Ambassador of Goodwill for UNICEF, Artistic Advisor of the Mellon Jazz Up Close series at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, and faculty member of the New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music.
Perez also tours with his trio: bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz, and will be appearing with them this fall: 9/11 Bates College Jazz Festival, Lewiston, ME; 9/12-13 Regattabar, Boston; 10/10 Hartford (CT) Jazz Festival; 10/14-19 Jazz Showcase, Chicago; 11/21-22 Jazz at Lincoln Center Monk Festival, New York City.