Oscar Perez ‘Prepare A Place For Me’ (Myna) 4/5

6PAN1TNew Yorker Oscar Perez teams up with rhythm duo Thomson Kneeland and Alvester Garnett for this, his third release. This captivating piano/bass/drums trio are joined on 5 of the 9 tracks by alto saxophonist Bruce Williams. “Prepare a place for me” includes 7 originals, Perez continuing to sparkle not just as a pianist, but increasing his reputation as a fine composer. Blending Latin music and acoustic jazz in an innovative, subtle and understated way, there is a natural, wholesome feel to the recording, the music breathing a cool flow of warm vibes into the listener’s ears.
The album kicks off with a fairly straight-ahead jazz piece “Just Everything”. This is an engaging Perez tune that was originally performed as a Spanish titled bolero on his 2005 quintet debut album “Nuevo Comienzo.” The classic “Round Midnight” is given a Latin makeover, but as with most of the music on this session, it is presented in such a warm and thoughtfully intelligent way that it shines with its own beauty, a beauty borne out of the tune itself but brought out by the craftsmanship of the players. An old school swing leads us into the Cedar Walter influenced original, “Headin’ Over.” Great interplay from the trio with the lovely alto of Williams singing out. “Snake Charm” is an aptly named piece that shines a light on the cohesiveness of the musicians, Perez especially sparkles on this piece. There’s a fresh spirit to “Message To Monterey”, a slow burner of a track that highlights the intricacies of the pianist’s songwriting, subtle and elegant with an understated intelligence that allows the bass and drums to contribute in such a consummate way. The music here dances with melodic virtue and lyrical verve, compelling and immersive. The Hoagy Carmichael favourite “The Nearness of You” is performed here with sensitivity and a respectful purpose. It once again allows Perez to show a poise and skill that brings out the best in the tune. The beautiful title track “Prepare A Place For Me” is a lovely ballad that features the gorgeous alto of Williams. His casual, breathy tone is perfect and lifts the tune with its style and grace. Williams continues on the simmering “Mushroom City”, another original, built on an infectious Brazilian baiao groove. For this listener, Perez saves the best til last, the wonderful album closer “Song For Ophelia”, about which the pianist says; “It has a special place in my heart. I wrote it after the passing of my grandmother Ofelia Betancur. She was the the matriarch of the entire family and showed incredible strength through many of life’s difficulties. My daughter Ofelia has her same spirit.” And there is indeed a beautiful free spirit that illuminates this piece of music. All 4 musicians bring a togetherness and a heartfelt, soulful beauty to this piece of music. Very touching, one of the finest tunes I have had the pleasure of listening to this year.

Oscar Perez is a pianist who doesn’t force anything on the listener. The skill is in the depth and subtlety of his writing and playing. He doesn’t employ any blazing cannons or loud effervescence, he doesn’t need to. What we have here is music that is both sublime and immersive, allowing the listener to walk alongside the composer on his journey, taking in all the subtleties and nuances along the way, and enjoying the music that such a trip rewards us with.

Mike Gates