Boomkat Product Review:
Panamá-born and Chicago-based drummer and DJ Daniel Villarreal spins together psychedelic jazz, folk-funk and post-rock on his ambitious debut album for International Anthem. RIYL Tortoise, Alice Coltrane or Os Mutantes.
Although "Panamá 77" is his debut, Villarreal has been a reliable presence on Chicago's music scene for years, both as a DJ and a percussionist with bands like Dos Santos, Valebol, The Los Sundowns or Ida y Vuelta. Cutting his teeth playing in punk and hardcore bands when he was growing up in Central America, Villarreal learned to appreciate music's stylistic flexibility after learning from reggaeton pioneer and El General drummer Freddy Sobers, who drove him through prog, salsa, folk and psychedelia without so much as a pause for breath. Villarreal took this experience to the US when he migrated in the early 2000s, and after over a decade of group work, he began to experiment with solo material 2017. The finished idea for "Panamá 77" materialized in 2019 after a trip to Los Angeles, where Villarreal made a low-stress stereo recording of an improvisation with his friends, including iconic Chicago guitarist Geoff Parker, LA's Elliot Bergman, Kellen Harrison, and Bardo Martinez.
As he was editing the session, Villarreal realized it needed a little more work, so invited Dos Santos guitarist Nathan Karagianis to assist, who joined alongside bassist Gordan Walters and organist Cole DeGenova for a second go in Chicago. When he returned to LA, Villarreal did third set with Bardo Martinez and Geoff Parker, grabbing Anna Butterss and Kyle David to fill out the sound. The result is a freewheeling collection of tightly controlled virtuoso instrumentalism that skates through Villarreal's personal biography, coloring percussive experimentation with sounds that link Central European folk to vintage Chicago post-rock.
Opening track 'Bella Vista' is snipped from the album's first session, and captures Villarreal and his collaborators' loose energy and genre-free spirit - this is only accented on 'Ofelia', where jerky beats play a game of cat and mouse with haunted organ sounds and evocative flutes. The organ plays a lead role on the waltzy 'Patria', a tribute to composer Avelino Muñoz and Villarreal's organist father. Elsewhere, Jeff Parker collaboration 'In/On' captures the magic of Tortoise's "TNT", and the psychedelic, synth-led 'Parque En Seis' reminds fondly of Alice Coltrane. Recommended.