“Latin” Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri, both innovator and conservator

Eddie Palmieri is a new NEA Jazz Master — to be inducted Jan. 14 in a ceremony at Dizzy’s Club in Jazz at Lincoln Center, to be webcast live. He is, contradictorily, the spark-plug/conservator of the Americas’ indefatigable Afro-Caribbean music. He turned 76 yesterday (Dec. 15), celebrating with a a “career retrospective” featuring his jazz band and dance ensemble at JALC’s Hall. Here’s Palmieri’s portrait with his timbalero José Claussell, taken last night by Sánta István Csaba, a Budapest-based photographer currently visiting New York City.

Eddie Palmieri at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Dec. 15 2012, photo by Sánta István Csaba

Eddie Palmieri and José Claussell at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Dec. 15 2012, photo by Sánta István Csaba

Palmieri has been a leader in America’s “Latin” music since the early ’60s — a composing and arranging pianist, a dramatic improviser, a hard-touring and often recording artist, a progressive political voice — but one who consciously harkens back at least a decade earlier, to the musical era from which he sprung. For his concert’s first Rose Hall set on Friday, 12/13  Palmieri opened with an impromptu and intimately moody (if hastily resolved) piano solo, then brought his congos-bongos-timbales-bass clavé section and alto sax, trumpet, trombone horn line (plus upright bass) together for the title track of his slinky, intricate 2005 album Palmas. He introduced a composition dedicated to Thelonious Monk incorporating unusual-for-Latin off-kilter hesitations; he played startling dissonant chords and unexpected chromatic modulations under section writing that required full engagement and vigor from trumpeter Brian Lynch, trombonist Conrad Herwig, saxist Louis Fouché; he drew energy from his drummers. This was some jazz hot.

For his second set, Palmieri added vocalist Herman Olivera, trés virtuoso Nelson Gonzalez (and his son as a backup singer/rhythmist),  exciting ‘boneman Jimmy Bosch — to delve into the 1950s’ rhumba-mambo-cha-cha stylings of Tito Rodriguez, Machito and Tito Puente. This orchestral popular dance music may have become formalized in the past 50+ years, but remains as multi-layered and compelling as ever, if played well. Palmieri and Co. played it well, though this repertoire left a bulk of Palmieri’s career unasserted. His charanga innovations and collaborations with Cal Tjader, boogaloo funk, dynamic electric (pre-Santana) jams, grandiose self-referential works, and ethnomusicological interpretations were missing. Yes, he’s a Jazz Master — but what’s he thinking up now?

I’ve written about Palmieri several times on this blog, including this an enthusiastic review of his 2009 JALC debut with his  neo-charanga ensemble La Perfecta II.

Here’s my posting when Palmieri’s Jazz Masters Award was announced — plus notes on the rest of the distinguished class —

And here’s the post from last year with my nomination of him for the NEA Jazz Master honor. Which begs the question — Who next?

See my nomination tomorrow.


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