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Eddie Palmieri Shows No Sign Of Slowing
by David Cazares
June 6, 2003
The first time I heard Eddie Palmieri in concert, it was a revelation.
The virtuoso pianist and composer was a dynamo on stage, pounding out thundering rhythms and leading his small ensemble through intricate Latin jazz arrangements that would make a full orchestra proud.
Unlike a lot of performers, Palmieri is as good live as he is in the recording studio, where over the past four decades he has made dozens of groundbreaking recordings that have fused salsa with jazz.
It was a formula he worked magically last year, with La Perfecta 2, an album that rekindles the spirit of his famed ensemble from the 1960s. But anyone who thought the 66-year-old bandleader was simply trying to relive better days would be wrong.
With his latest release, Ritmo Caliente on Concord Picante records, Palmieri has again delivered a superb CD. It captures the essence of the past while also showing how Latin jazz is a living, evolving art.
Palmieri does so from the opening tune, La voz del Caribe, a mambo on which the pianist draws the listener in with strong chords before engaging in a musical interplay with his band. On Grandpa Semi-Tone Blues, Palmieri begins with an introduction that evokes the language of jazz legend Thelonious Monk before engaging flutist Karen Joseph in a different kind of dialogue. With Lázaro y su Microfono, the seven-time Grammy winner relies on the cha-cha-cha to capture listeners and draw dancers to the floor. The album's most ambitious tune is perhaps Gigue (Bach Goes Bach), a fiery number that fuses Bach's classical influences with the rhythms of the batá drum.
Palmieri was born in New York's Spanish Harlem in 1936. He got his start playing at age 13, when he joined his uncle's orchestra as a timbale player.
After years of playing with great Latin performers, jazz stars and leading his own bands, he is an acknowledged master of Latin jazz. For him, percussion leads the way.
"The rhythms continue to excite because they keep evolving, just as they did when the African captives who started them were taken to the Caribbean," Palmieri said through his label. "It's a matter of finding new ways to utilize these complicated patters and then create exciting new arrangements for my ensemble."