Hear the first track from a harmonious new album by pianist-composer Danilo Pérez
For the last dozen years, Danilo Pérez has balanced his busy career as a pianist and bandleader with a key institutional role, as founder and artistic director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute. That program puts into practice some of the same ideals Pérez encountered during his formative tenure in Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra.
Pérez — who recently won a Doris Duke Artist Award alongside one of his mentors, Wayne Shorter — also serves as a cultural ambassador for Panama, artistic director of the Panama Jazz Festival, and a UNESCO Artist for Peace. He drew from the institute's alumni pool to form his latest ensemble, the Global Messengers. He features two new suites for the group on Crisálida, his new album, which Mack Avenue will release on March 18. Here is "La Mural (Glass Walls) Suite: Monopatia," in a WBGO premiere.
The Global Messengers is, like the United Nation Orchestra, a truly international proposition. Along with Pérez and his wife, Chilean vocalist and saxophonist Patricia Zárate, the group features Iraqi-Jordanian violinist Layth Sidiq; African-American singer Farayi Male; Palestinian cellist Naseem Alatrash and percussionist Tareq Rantisi; and Greek laouto player Vasilis Kostas. Among the album's guest artists is Greek vocalist Eirini Tornesaki, who is featured on this track alongside Zárate and Kostas.
In English, "crisálida" translates to "chrysalis," the pupal stage in the lifespan of a butterfly. "I envision Crisálida as a protected space where we all come together, whether we're addressing immigration issues, climate change, environmental justice, science, interconnecting different art forms," says Pérez in a press statement. "We need to work together to build our new crisálida, which, to me, is the emotional, mental and physical state of protection in our early development."
The second half of the album directly addresses one of the issues Pérez identified: the fraught experience of immigration in our political climate. The "Frontera (Borders) Suite" begins with a movement titled "Adrift," before moving on to "Al-Musafir Blues," which imagines the travails of a Palestinian immigrant stuck in transit, and in a kind of limbo.
What's clear throughout Crisálida, and certainly on "La Mural (Glass Walls) Suite: Monopatia," is a conviction that music has the power to bridge cultural experiences — something Pérez has long held as a first principle. There's also a subtler idea at play, about our responsibility as global citizens, and how a diverse coalition can make a difference.
In that sense, the Berklee Global Jazz Institute serves as more than an incubator for the project, just as Pérez has been more than an administrator there. In 2019, to mark the first decade of the program, Berklee's then-president Roger Brown spoke to this point: "Danilo Pérez's work at the BGJI has made a difference in so many students' lives, as well as the global music community,” he said.
"Pérez not only plays for the simple enjoyment music brings," Brown added, "but also to help change and influence the world around him. It's my hope, and I believe Danilo would agree with me, that if the students of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute follow in his footsteps, the world will be a better place."
Crisálida will be released on Mack Avenue Records on March 18; preorder here.