Latin interpretation of a master

Panamonk (Impulse!)
Danilo Perez

By Keith Henry Brown

"When I am listening to Monk or studying one of his tunes, I can always hear how natural it would be to put what he does into Latin rhythm," Danilo Perez explains in the liner notes of his new album, Panamonk. He proves his case well. Perez's piano work here is incredibly accessible, largely due to the vibrant Panamanian and African rhythms he hears flowing through the music of Thelonious Monk.

How accessible? Let's just say that the fat, funky sound on one of Perez's Monk-inspired originals, "Hot Bean Strut" is so approachable, a jazz-buddy friend of mine's three-year-old son is constantly requesting this tune in their home, earnestly begging, "Da-nee-lo, daddy! More Da-nee-lo!"

Not that the playing here isn't at the height of sophistication and complexity. Tunes like "Round Midnight," "Monk's Mood," "Think Of One" and "Reflections" are all standard-issue Monk, interpreted and reinterpreted hundreds of times, even by the composer himself. But Perez knows these tunes inside out, and his fleet fingeredness ultimately wins out. Sometimes his dexterity is amazing. On the track "Evidence/Four In One," he plays one tune on his right hand, the other, on his left -- simultaneously. Like Dizzy Gillespie in his later years, Perez is deeply inspired by his African heritage, and the beautiful restraint in which he applies these sounds into the music of Thelonious Monk makes these age-old standards sound fresh.

Perez' superb band, Terri Lyne Carrington and (Wynton Marsalis alum) Jeff "Tain" Watts" on drums and Avishai Cohen on bass are excellent back up. They provide the rhythms Perez hears in his head with stunning authenticity. Monk rarely had much interest in other artists' versions of his work, but it's hard to imagine him not being totally pleased with this outing.