Providencia (Danilo Pérez)

Danilo Pérez

The music in Providencia is both, an invitation and a challenge.
It arrives at a time of profound technological, economic, and social changes — not only as a defining moment for Danilo Pérez, pianist, composer, and bandleader, but also husband, father of two small daughters (and a third child on the way), educator, and social activist.
For Pérez, the upheaval, with all its uncertainties and opportunities, is not an intellectual parlor game but a daily kitchen conversation with real consequences.
“I wanted this record to feel like a response to a child, someone like my daughter Daniela or Carolina, when she asks us, the grown-ups, “What are you doing to prevent the world from disappearing? What is it going to be left for us? What have you done for the future?”
“The word providencia, providence, has many connotations,” he continues, explaining the choice of a title. “ My favorite is the one that means to be prepared for the future, to be prepared for the unknown.”

The music in Providencia, speaks to that preparation, and all it entails.

For starters, “we must get out of our comfort zone,” says Pérez, and the attitude informs both the writing and the playing throughout.
Some pieces have been designed and constructed like soundtracks for movies of the mind.
“‘Daniela´s Chronicles,’ is like watching my daughter growing up, filming her and then creating the music to go with it,” explains Pérez. “So for example, in the second part, when you hear a steel pan, Daniela is one year old and Carolina is coming into the picture. And when you hear Jamey [Haddad] creating that whistling sound in the background is because when Carolina was two years old, she was always running around, singing, ‘eeeeee-ooooo-eee-ooo’.”

Other compositions, also through-composed, play like short films.
In the title track, a sui-generis rumba guaguancó originally written for his wife Patricia’s hometown in Chile, the arranging suggests a story told from different points of view by several voices – all speaking at once. And in “The Oracle,” rich with personal details, Pérez pays an affectionate tribute to his late teacher Charlie Banacos, “a visionary educator and one of the most exciting persons I’ve ever met.”
“Galactic Panama,” “The Maze,” (his improvised duets with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa) and “Bridge of Life Part I and II” are, in Perez’s words, “invitations to an adventure, to let go and experiment.” On the chamber-like “Bridge …” process and product are of one piece, as Pérez nudged the classically-trained players to play by ear, improvise and  “take a leap of faith, take chances. I told them we wanted to inspire people.”

“Cobilla,” titled after a word Daniela made up, is also a call to action — but of a different sort.
“It’s a piece in which I want to tell people ‘Let’s do something, whatever you can, but get involved’.”

But Providencia also pauses for two classic pieces from the Great Latin American Songbook: the boleros “Historia de un Amor,” (The Story of a Love) and “Irremediablemente Solo,” (Incurably Alone). “I wanted to include these songs for many reasons,” says Pérez. “But especially as a reminder that no matter how ‘galactic’ we want to go, how crazy, how adventurous we want to be, we still have to struggle with love and loss, and loneliness.”
Neither song gets a particularly romantic treatment. If anything, the arrangements and the playing speak to the treacherous undercurrents beneath any great love.
“I orchestrated ‘Historia de un Amor’ to its words,” says Pérez. “I really like to go deep into the lyrics, and the words are very tragic.” Similarly, the text dictated his approach to ”Irremediablemente Solo,” which he had recorded in 1993 as an uptempo standard.
“As soon as I learned the lyrics, I knew I couldn’t play it the same way.”

In Providencia, the customary way doesn´t necessarily mean the right way.
In fact, be it in form or in spirit, the music in Providencia rarely follows convention. Instead, it unfolds in its own logical but unpredictable ways. Storylines break down, then reappear — or not. Characters fade in and out. Others enter, say their piece and leave. The tone now lightens up, now it darkens, and as it does, the meaning of a story subtly changes.
What is implicit, in both the writing and the playing, is that this music evokes life as it is, not as a sitcom episode with neat, reassuring resolutions. What is implicit, is that hope and beauty and joy, like so much trouble, may appear at unexpected times.

We’ll just have to summon all our courage, and imagination — and trust our providence.


Providencia was released in 2010

Fernando González