Roberto Perera merges a classic instrument, the folk harp, with contemporary sounds on his new Heads Up release, In the Mood. In Perera's capable hands, the Paraguayan instrument becomes the vehicle for an irresistible array of jazz, pop, Latin, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms combined with arousing syncopation, uniting all of the Americas in a style born of his unique musical vision. The top contemporary jazz lineup on In the Mood includes guitarists Peter White, Marc Antoine, keyboardist/producer/arranger Tim Redfield, guitarist Richard Smith, and trumpeter/flügelhornist Tony Guerrer.
Born in 1952 in Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, Perera was barely 12 years old when his mother enrolled him in a music conservatory where he selected the rare 36-string Paraguayan harp. Perera's complex technique includes precisely bending the strings to create sharps and flats while gliding across the harp in a seemingly effortless fashion, which bespeaks the tremendous amount of skill and discipline required.
About the time Perera started playing the harp, the Beatles were in their heyday. The young musician absorbed their music as well as other pop music influences into his musical muse, which included Brazilian music, folk and tango from South America, and the folk music from Paraguay. Unable to find an instructor who could teach him how to perform a pop music repertoire on the harp, the determined Perera experimented until he was able to overcome the instrument's technical hurdles and develop his own form of expression.
In 1973, after completing ten years of harp studies in Montevideo, Perera moved to New York City with hopes of pursuing a top-notch music career. At first, his experience was not the American dream he had imagined, as his performances were limited primarily to playing folk tunes at clubs and restaurants. Perera paid his dues in New York for a couple of years before he was recruited by a talent scout to entertain at an exclusive private club in Florida. There he finally was allowed to perform his own compositions and further develop his distinctive style, having applied the musical influences of Weather Report and Antonio Carlos Jobim. He'd starting approaching the harp as a percussive instrument, much like a piano, instead of a string instrument.
By the time his recording debut, Erotica, was released by Epic Records in 1990, Perera had earned a reputation as one of the pioneers in electro-acoustic harp performance. His five subsequent albums for Heads Up infused the jazz-pop idiom with a wide range of multicultural flavorings, punctuated with guest performances by Trinidadian steel drummer Othello Molineaux, Nicaraguan salsa singer Luis Enrique, Floridian hand percussionist Robert Thomas Jr., and Cuban jazz reedman Paquito D'Rivera.
Perera was recognized throughout the music industry in 1993 when he won the Billboard Contemporary Latin Jazz Album of the Year award for his second Heads Up release, Dreams & Desires. He was selected as musical director for the Hispanic Heritage awards at the Kennedy Center in 1997 and 1998 was voted Favorite Jazz Artist in his category numerous times in the annual Jazziz magazine reader's poll. He guested on numerous recordings including D'Rivera's 100 Years of Latin Love Songs and Gloria Estefan's Grammy-winning Abriendo Puertas.
Not content to simply rework the methods that have delivered his past success, Perera experimented with some new musical concepts for the recording of In the Mood, his sixth Heads Up release. The ten-song collection gives Perera ample opportunity to establish a balance of melodic tenderness and percussive drive, creating a lush landscape of musical experimentation and introspection infused with powerful rhythmic currents.
Perera's own compositions for In the Mood include the contagious samba "Joia" and the sensual "Six A.M." A totally different approach is taken on "Coming Home," originally penned by Perera in the style of a piece of Paraguayan folk music, but imaginatively adapted to the contemporary jazz idiom for In the Mood.
Perera is always looking to add new ideas, to experiment with different styles, and to push the parameters of the instrument while showing that the harp can be very cool and hip. ~ Ed Hogan