Danilo Perez

When writing about Danilo Perez, seasoned music journalists end up sounding like foodies, spicing things up with language best suited for the latest Latin-fusion cuisine. The piquant clichés are tough to resist -- especially when it comes to Motherland, the pianist's most recent project.

Billed as an "homage to the music of the Americas," the album's sound comes from the collision, and collusion, of many musical traditions (think North, Central and South America, friends). It is inevitably described as "fusion," which is not really such a dirty word. Fusion has always has been at the heart of jazz -- fitting that the defining characteristic of New World culture also defines our native-born music.

Showcasing his formidable talents as a composer and arranger, Perez lets loose the Afro-Latin vapors that seeped through even his most straight-ahead early recordings. Perez is no mere musical anthropologist. All too many who favor this approach raid "world" music for exotic sounds, but Perez excavates the musical language of his native Panama to propose a new Creole music that links traditional American jazz with the African, Latin and Native American strains that have always been buried in the mix.

Featuring Adam Cruz on drums, Essiet Essiet on bass, Donny McCaslin on saxophone, and vocals by the enchantingly cerebral Luciana Souza, the Motherland Band is a powerful encapsulation of the magic produced by the 17 musicians on the CD (released by Verve in 2000 and nominated for Best Latin Jazz Grammy). These five produce a sound worthy of whole continents, beyond nation, language or genre. Danilo Perez's agenda is multicultural without being didactic; his music is as ambitious as it is full of grace.

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Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts