The Sunday afternoon program at Wolf Trap's Jazz & Blues Festival showcased three newly commissioned works by veteran saxophonist and composer Jimmy Heath, pianist Danilo Perez and tenor saxophonist David Sanchez. While all delivered top-notch performances, only Perez's offering, "Hidden Treasures," seemed marked by inspiration beyond the rote, deftly fusing the composer's prodigious European-classical influences with Afro-Caribbean rhythms.
Flanked by drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Carlito Enriquez, Perez imbued the composition with romantic passion as his single-note flurries raced through the tricky rhythmic changes with crisp articulation. The success of Perez's set, which included flinty readings of his "Blues for the Saints" and Thelonious Monk's "Think of One," owed a great debt to group empathy, with Perez and Sanchez particularly engaging as they created rhythmic tension that heightened those compositions' dynamics.
Perez's Latin-jazz contemporary, Sanchez delivered a baffling set marred by technical difficulties. As a result, his commission, "San Juan Bahia," went almost unnoticed. Sanchez's stage presence didn't help much either, especially when he would abruptly leave the microphone stand during what could have been the most engaging portions of his set.
Heath has such an effortless way with a melody and improvisation that he tends to make the difficult seem easy. Although his quintet filled the hall with jubilant pieces like "A Sound for Sore Ears" and Billy Strayhorn's "Day Dream," Heath's commission, "Sources Said," sounded a bit too casual, particularly in comparison with such distinctive compositions as his own classic "Gingerbread Boy."