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Album review | Jazz

Panama’s history set to music on ‘Panama 500’

The 47-year-old Boston jazz pianist, composer, and educator Danilo Pérez (currently at Berklee) has long explored the music of his native Panama in different settings. “Panama 500” may be his most accomplished piece yet. Commemorating the 500th anniversary of Spanish explorer Balboa’s “discovery” of the Pacific Ocean on Panama’s west coast as well as the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal, Pérez tells the history of his country through its music, from the chants of the indigenous Guna people and folkloric dance rhythms through modern jazz. But rather than offering a strict chronological retelling, Pérez juxtaposes and layers different musical vocabularies. Atop the ancient percussion rhythms of the introductory “Rediscovery of the South Sea,” he sets not just modern instruments (like violin and his own piano) but also pungent modern harmonies. It’s history in the present tense, experienced as a memory. Alternating his long-standing trio of bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz with his rhythm mates from the Wayne Shorter Quartet, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, Pérez adds percussion and strings. Through tuneful set pieces and improvisations, the music remains focused and evocative. (Out Tuesday)

Essential “Rediscovery of the South Sea”

The Danilo Pérez Panama 500 band plays Scullers Jazz Club Feb. 15 and 16.

Jon Garelick can be reached at
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