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Music Review: Oscar Perez/Nuevo Comienzo – Afropean Affair

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Oscar Perez, with his band Nuevo Comienzo, blurs genre lines with his Afropean Affair.  The album is the pianist’s second.

Perez throws a bit of everything into the basket with this recording, tossing post-bop with Afro-Caribbean and Latin jazz. This is an interesting distinction given the constant incidental blurring of the lines taking place in pop culture, a process that isn’t particularly helpful in preserving certain strands of art but can be benefitted from nonetheless.

Many people know about the Recording Academy’s decision to eliminate the Best Latin Jazz Album, for instance. While this development could easily be taken with the rage it richly deserves, the other side of the coin is that genre meanings are becoming more fluid. Besides, we should probably count our lucky stars that they’re recognizing jazz at all.

In that context, then, sits Afropean Affair.

Along with Perez (piano/Fender Rhodes), Nuevo Comienzo includes Greg Glassman (trumpet/flugelhorn), Stacy Dillard (tenor and soprano saxophones), Anthony Perez (bass), Jerome Jennings (drums), Emiliano Valerio (percussion), and the occasional vocal services of one Charenee Wade.

Perez says assembling Nuevo Comienzo was a process of finding players who could bring their own dishes to the table. “The concept I’m going for filters everything through the writing,” he says. “In picking the members of the band, they needed to have their own sounds.”

Throughout the record, each individual player really does provide a distinct flavour. Jennings, for instance, plays with fierce grooves, no matter the convention. His drive on “The Illusive Number” sets the balance for the other players, letting Valerio slide into percussive bliss and giving Perez’s sharp piano spots a place to land.

Or there’s “Paths and Streams,” a suitably sinuous piece that finds the whole company rising and falling to the composition’s 7/8 tempo.

At the core of the album is the three-piece “Afropean Suite.” The suite was commissioned by Chamber Music America and features Charenee Wade’s work in the form of lovely wordless lines. The movements work through some wondrously naturalistic arcs and tones, packing a vibe that, at times, calls to mind the work of Chick Corea.

Thanks to complete, organic movements and lively jaunts, Perez’s Afropean Affair really does blur genre lines. It does with boldness, not out of some form of sorrow, and stands as a sumptuous reminder of how beautiful any form of music can be when it doesn’t confine itself behind senseless borders.

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