...Till Then, his first new recording as a leader in 3 years, and his fourth release for the venerable Verve Music Group, is a heartfelt celebration of composers who, as Pérez puts it, "have focused on expressing their ideals through their talent inspiring us to build a better world. The title tune captures my longing for the moment when we achieve true peace, unity and freedom, in this lifetime and beyond." In this spirit, he contributes three originals and offers distinctive interpretations of Joni Mitchell's "Fiddle and the Drum," Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" and Milton Nascimento's "Veracruz," all likely familiar to most North American listeners. In addition, he features seminal works composed by Violeta Parra (Chile), Chico Buarque (Brazil), Ruben Blades (Panama) and Silvio Rodríguez (Cuba).
"When we were kids, sitting around the table at Sunday dinners with my parents, both teachers," Pérez recalls, "we often talked about the importance of equality and justice. My hopeful thinking comes from these conversations."
Pérez is joined on ...Till Then by two trios - his touring band, bassist Ben Street and drummer / percussionist, Adam Cruz, plus bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, both members, with Pérez, of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, nominated for a 2002 Grammy Award for "Best Jazz Ensemble." Vocalist and lyricist Lizz Wright and soprano saxophonist Donny McCaslin contribute their talents to selected cuts.
Multiple Grammy Award-winner Tommy LiPuma once again produces, as he has for all 4 recordings Perez has made for the Verve Music Group - Motherland (2000), Central Avenue (1998) and Panamonk (1996). "The best thing about working with Tommy is that he allows me to be myself . During the creative process, I always feel confident with him," Pérez continues. "Tommy has vision, offers great suggestions, and is willing to discover things too. Very few producers of his stature are willing to take chances."
The title track holds dual significance for Pérez, who penned it as a personal dedication to a dear friend and highly respected flutist and composer, Mauricio Smith, who passed away in 2002. "Mauricio was my friend for many years, and I lived with him in New York for a time. He performed with Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and many others, and gave me great encouragement and guidance," says Pérez. "His passing made me realize how fragile life is. These thoughts led me to do this project which celebrates the work of all of these songwriters. All are idealists, and each inspires us to see the world as a better place."
Wright penned lyrics for "...Till Then," and is featured vocalist on the track, as well as on Pérez's haunting rendition of Mitchell's "Fiddle and The Drum." "I asked Lizz to write lyrics for "Till Then" because we had played together on her recent recording, Salt (Verve), and she impressed me as being very worldly, very aware. I knew she would interpret the music well."
Trust and deep knowing are the foundation for the spirited and soulful interplay among the musicians on this recording. "I know all of them very well," says Pérez, "and we all try to practice brotherhood, love, equality and freedom in our personal lives and in our music. All of us have become like family, and there is a feeling of celebration, of transcending communication, when we play that it is very magical to me."
In addition to composing the title track, Pérez wrote "Native Soul" and "Improvisation on Red." The former kicks off the CD with Pérez's inimitable energy, coupled with a joyful sophistication that leaves plenty of space for dialogue with Cruz and Street. The closeness among the members of this trio imitates breathing in its natural pacing and expressiveness, both Pérez hallmarks. "Native Soul" is an examination of the complexities of life, replete with joyful clarity and thoughtful, expressive dynamics.
Pérez originally penned "Improvisation on Red" as the second movement of his "Freedom of Color" commission for Lincoln Center. Revisiting it, on solo piano, he mines varied influences, from Thelonious Monk and Panamanian folk music, to the classical music at the root of his early musical studies. "Here I combine folkloric influences with traditional piano jazz."
"Most tracks are first-takes," continues Pérez. "We wanted to capture the essence of the spontaneity in our playing together. This record represents a culmination of the evolution of my playing over the last few years."
Leading into Parra's "Gracias a la Vida," Cruz's sinuous steel drum forebodings set an appropriately thoughtful tone for Pérez's original homage to the chilean folkloric composer's reverent appreciation of life. Patitucci's funky yet eloquent Afro-Brazilian bass lines introduce and support Buarque's "Trocando em Miúdos," and he and Blade play off each other, surrounding Pérez and McCaslin's smoothly reedy soprano with highlights both inventive and warm, appropriate to the composer often called "King of the Bossa Nova." On Blade's "Paula C," Pérez relies upon Cruz and Street's rhythmic foundation to drive the harmonies and melody. Silvio Rodriguez's "Rabo de Nube" ("Tail of a Cloud") is imbued with playful romanticism as Pérez, Cruz and Street offer up a lush trio exchange.
Pérez first attracted the spotlight as the youngest member of Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra, a position he held from 1989 to 1992. With Gillespie as mentor, the young pianist and composer solidified his command of the eclectic, post-bop Latin style, laying crucial groundwork for his ascension to leadership of his own ensembles. Pérez has led his own groups since then, and earned three Grammy nominations for "Best Jazz Album" and "Best Latin Jazz Album" for two of his five previous recordings: Motherland (Verve 314 543 904), which received two nominations, and Central Avenue (Impulse! IMPD 279). Currently a member of Shorter's first acoustic touring band and the Steve Lacy Duo, Pérez has also performed with Roy Haynes Trio since 1998. When he is not touring, he teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music, Berklee College of Music and the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music.
In 2000, Pérez was named Cultural Ambassador for his native country, Panama, where he co-presented the First Annual Jazz Festival in 2003. He was also recently named artistic advisor of the innovative new jazz series at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center: the 2003-2004 season is dedicated to the legacy of Gillespie.
"I'm really happy with ...Till Then," admits Pérez. "All of us felt a very strong responsibility to wake up awareness. Each time I make a recording, I think about this, about how I can share it with others. This is the moment, these are the times, to celebrate our life. The moment is now."