Danilo Perez took the ‘Can you whistle the tune?’ question to a new level at New York’s Blue Note on Saturday night. Mid-way through the set, he cued the band in by whistling the tune, pausing to insist bass player John Patitucci join in. With a chuckle, Patitucci sportingly gave it a go. A few exploratory chords from Perez behind the whistling and then they were off, a frown of concentration from Patitucci and grin of delight from the pianist as zigzagging lines interlocked driven by the snappy, complementary groove from Brian Blade behind the kit. The playfulness pervaded the whole set, alternating with deadly serious, razor sharp execution of complex moves. Many of Perez’s compositions have audible roots in fierce grooves, overlain with angular harmony and tantalisingly abstract, melodic lines. Blade was a constant, exuberant, alert presence producing some of the most thrilling moments of the evening as he stoked the fires of a building vamp, or lashed a free- wheeling improvisation along.
This trio set was a big ticket gig in the month long Blue Note festival and billed as ‘Children of the Light’, the title of the trio’s album released in 2015 after nearly a decade as the core of Wayne Shorter’s quartet. They played with the same freedom and invention for which the quartet has become known. Perez was constantly setting up vamps that sounded scripted, the impression belied by his impish grin as either Blade or Patitucci snapped him a look. The looks were the only indication, they followed his every move.
The set started with a version of Suite for the Americas a long, evolving piece that seemed to traverse the continent in its different sections and rhythms. An elegiac piece followed, Perez and Patitucci taking flight with emotional and melodic solos. Then pulsating rhythms and a maelstrom of improvisation. A muted, exquisite take on Stevie Wonders Overjoyed evoked a singing solo from Patitucci before a finale of Perez singing the band in, orchestrating call and response riffs with the audience, beat boxing and whipping up Patitucci and Blade solos with two handed rhythmic barrages.
This was a storming performance by a trio of some of the best musicians on the planet, performing as if they had a single mind. It was simply joyous music making.