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Palmieri And Sanchez Make A Jazzy Duet


March 7, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Newsday. All rights reserved.

Back in the late '80s and early '90s, there was a series at the now-defunct Village Gate club called "Salsa Meets Jazz." Every week, a great salsa band would play a set, and a jazz instrumentalist, usually not a Latin musician, would sit in and play jazz solos during a salsa tune.

Last month at Le Jazz Au Bar, a large midtown room with hints of the Algonquin Hotel, the salsa-meets-jazz concept came back to life in the form of an unusual duet by pianist Eddie Palmieri and saxophonist David Sánchez. Both of these players are so proficient that to say this was anything other than a jazz performance might be underestimating them.

Still, playing salsa or Afro-Cuban music requires much more skill than many listeners imagine, especially when the music is best enjoyed in a dance context. (Somehow, when dancing, even though it requires a degree of skill, is associated with a genre, it makes the music less serious.) So here were, Palmieri, big band kingpin and mambo madman and, at 67, one of the music's last remaining patriarchs, and Sánchez, 30 years younger and the author of six remarkable albums on Columbia's mainstream jazz label, alone together, trying to create a new kind of magic.

Perhaps responding to a review that appeared the day of the performance I saw, Palmieri spent most of the show in a supporting role, generating a harmonic context and allowing Sánchez to play the narrator with a number of highly expressive solos. Shifting tempos between straight jazz, ragtime, the Cuban danzón and son figures called tumbaos, Palmieri recapitulated many of the haunting tones and eccentric energies familiar with those who have followed his career.

Sánchez provided one of the most powerful yet controlled sets I've ever seen him play, treating melodies like soliloquies and racing through his frenetic evocations of bebop and Sonny Rollins, while managing to make the stuff of legends his own. The last tune, the salsa classic "Puerto Rico," stirred mixed emotions - you missed Ismael Quintana's impassioned vocals, the jubilant chorus, the sassy horn charts. But there was an amazing poignancy generated by the linking of Palmieri, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, and Sánchez, from the island, paying tribute to the sweet land left behind, and a moment in the '70s when almost anything seemed possible.

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