When Criss Cross proprietor Gerry Teekens offered pianist Luis Perdomo his fourth band-leader date for the label, the 45 year old, Caracas born pianist accepted without hesitation. “I wasn’t planning on doing this record.” says Perdomo, a New Yorker since 1993. “But there are so many great people in New York I’ve never played with before, or have played with but not enough, and I’ve taken these opportunities as occasions to do something with them. For me, putting together these bands is like cooking – get the right ingredients, take a lot of time to prepare and you know it’s going to be great.” And on this evidence, Perdomo is indeed a head chef par excellence, with his hand-picked band dishing up a real treat on “Spirits and Warriors”. Perdomo is joined by Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and Flugelhorn, Mark Shim on tenor sax and EWI, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, and Billy Hart on drums. An A-list quintet then, brought together for this session by the pianist and band-leader to perform 6 Perdomo original compositions, along with tunes by Cl. Jordan, H. Pascal and J.R. Robinson.
The first thing that strikes me about this recording, is the apparent togetherness of the band. There’s clearly a great understanding between the musicians, one that helps create a very warm mood, with some bold and at times high-octane performances, most notably from Perdomo himself, and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin. As Perdomo says, “Alex made a huge impression on me the first time I heard him, and has done so many times since”. And the regular Criss Cross leader and contributor certainly makes a big impression throughout this recording, his trumpet and flugelhorn solos being simply stunning from start to finish. All of the band members make their mark in a positive way though, creating a cool, modern jazz vibe that is simply delicious.
Perdomo’s compositions are excellent. Each tune gives the listener something different to enjoy, whether it be luscious horn harmonies, spirited soloing, or calm and collected interplay between the quintet. The late and much missed bassist Dwayne Burno, who played on Perdomo’s album “Links”, is the subject of the opening number “Face Up”. The pianist/composer says “I imagined the type of changes Dwayne liked to play on, and the kind of song he played masterfully.” This is a storming opener that swings like crazy and highlights the combined skills of Sipiagin and Shim. “Sensei” evokes the aura of Woody Shaw’s and Bobby Hutcherson’s musical production at the cusp of the 1970’s, a feeling reinforced by Sipiagin’s mercurial, virtuosic solo, and Perdomo’s lilting, uplifting declamation. The evergreen Billy Hart leads the listener into “Aura”, a real foot tapper, before the anthemic “Ralph”, featuring some incredible interplay from the two horn players. “Her Eyes” benefits from some expressive playing from the quintet, whilst the beautiful “Year One” is a ballad that is so sweet and poignant, largely due to the lovely tone employed by Sipiagin. Clifford Jordon’s classic “Glass Bead Games”, Hermeto Pascoal’s “Little Church”, and J.R. Robinson’s “Portrait of Jenny” complete the album, with consummate performances from the quintet throughout.
“Spirits and Warriors” is a very enjoyable album, and undoubtedly one of Criss Cross’s highlights of the year so far. Luis Perdomo has made one of his finest albums to date here, one that will be enjoyed for a long time to come.