Arts concert review

A centennial tribute to four jazz greats

Danilo Pérez’s Jazz 100 features exciting arrangements of old standards

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Performers at the Jazz 100 concert presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston.
Robert Torres

Jazz 100 presented by Celebrity Series of Boston

Performed by Danilo Pérez, Chris Potter, Avishai Cohen,

Wycliffe Gordon, Lizz Wright

Sanders Theatre

Oct. 16, 2016

Jazz is defined by its malleability. Every arranger brings his own style to well-worn standards, and Danilo Pérez is no different. The Panamanian pianist brought a distinctively Latin style to some respected standards from four jazz greats: Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Mongo Santamaria, and Ella Fitzgerald. He’s collected a set of world-class musicians to realize his artistic goals, spawning Jazz 100, a celebration of the centennial birthdays of the four legends.

The program was sensational — mixing Afro-Cuban works led by congo player Roman Diaz, Ella-like vocals from Lizz Wright, and instrumental tributes to Monk and Gillespie, Pérez tickled the ears all night long.

Wycliffe Gordon is as unspeakably entertaining as he is virtuosic on the trombone. He dominated the arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Ow!”, starting with some scatting (vocal improvisation) before mixing in his funky trombone playing. He’s a master with mutes to change the tone of his horn, and he produced some nasty trombone growls to please the crowd.

Next, out of the shadowy curtains stepped the voice of soul herself, Lizz Wright. I’ve never heard her before, but she has serious vocal chops. Her tone is mellow and resonant, and it drew gasps of surprise from her first song, a rendition of Fitzgerald’s signature tune, “How High the Moon.”

Pérez then performs a piece on solo piano in tribute to the eccentric and wildly popular mid-1900s pianist, Thelonious Sphere Monk (yes, that’s his real name). Although the piece wasn’t nearly as unorthodox as Monk’s idiosyncratic style, making it fall short as a tribute, it still stands as a strong part of the program.  

Alongside Wycliffe Gordon was another master musician, Grammy-nominated Chris Potter worked his tenor sax in a complex arrangement of Monk’s “Off Minor.” Potter’s horn was precise and his dynamic control was impeccable as he and Pérez exchanged lines in an innovative musical conversation.

One of my favorites was the bossa-esque rendition of “Shiny Stockings.” I played that song in high school on the trombone in the Count Basie style, terse and straight up. Pérez infused the song with a faster tempo and a significant dose of fun, and Wright enjoyed herself as she toyed with the playful lyrics.

In an era of modern jazz that can be so avant-garde that it turns off most audiences, Jazz 100 is accessible without being hackneyed, fresh without being bewildering. I’d gladly go see any of those performers solo, and roping them all together was pretty fortuitous and unimaginably special.