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Eddie Palmieri

Reviewed on this page:
Eddie Palmieri And His Conjunto La Perfecta - Mozambique - El Sonido Nuevo - Molasses - Justicia - Superimposition - Vamanos Pa'l Monte - Live At The University Of Puerto Rico - Harlem River Drive - Recorded Live At Sing Sing - The Sun Of Latin Music - Unfinished Masterpiece - Lucumí Macumba Voodoo - Eddie Palmieri - Palo Pa' Rumba - La Verdad - Sueño - Llego La India - Palmas - Arete - Vortex - El Rumbero Del Piano - Live! - Masterpiece/Obra Maestra - La Perfecta II - Listen Here! - Simpático - Eddie Palmieri Is Doin' It In The Park - Sabiduría

Raised in New York City of Puerto Rican and Italian ancestry, Palmieri has led Latin jazz and dance bands for over fifty years, and he doesn't seem to be slowing down. Though he's ranged across the stylistic map and back again, generally his bands combine jazz improvisation and harmonic sophistication with an unstoppable Latin groove. Palmieri himself is an incredible piano player, dramatic and percussive, deeply influenced by McCoy Tyner but very much an individual talent. He's had his ups and downs over the years, and his body of work reflects that, but when he's at his best there's nobody better, and he's been at his best very often. (DBW)

La Perfecta

The first band Eddie led, La Perfecta featured vocalist Ismael Quintana and trombonist/arranger Barry Rogers. Their recordings haven't aged as well as Palmieri's other work, and it can be hard to tell from this vantage point how important and influential they were. But iffy sound quality, short tunes, corny lyrics and all, these are the records that made his reputation, so there's got to be something to 'em. (DBW)

Eddie Palmieri And His Conjunto La Perfecta (1964)
Almost half of the opening "Conmigo" is turned over to a Palmieri piano solo, serving notice that a virtuoso is at work. Most of the album, though, is tautly arranged but fairly conventional Latin dance music of the day, largely danzons ("Presente Y Pasado") and pachangas ("Ritmo Caliente"). The tunes all clock in right around three minutes, so the band never gets a full head of steam going, and many of the compositions lack individuality ("Mi Guajira"), though there are a few beauts like "Oigo Un Tumbao." (DBW)

Echando Pa'lante (1964)
With "Café," "Mi Corazón Te Llama," and "Tu Tu Ta Ta." (DBW)

Azucar Pa' Tí (1965)
Contains one of Palmieri's best known tunes, "Azúcar." (DBW)

Mozambique (1965)
At the time this record was cutting edge - it introduced the complex mozambique rhythm to US audiences - but now the sound is dated, and like the group's debut, all the cuts are so short they rarely build up momentum. "Camagueyanos Y Habaneros" did become a classic, and he still uses it to close his live performances. Produced by Teddy Reig. (DBW)

El Sonido Nuevo (Cal Tjader & Eddie Palmieri: 1966)
Palmieri's regular band working with vibraphonist Tjader, with three tunes co-written by the leaders: "Guajira En Azul," "Unidos" and the ominous, Tyner-inspired title track. Tjader fits right into La Perfecta's groove, there are fine solos on an extended version of Tito Puente's "Picadillo," and the "Theme From Modesty Blaise" sounds better than it has any right to. Produced by Creed Taylor; recorded by legendary jazz engineer Rudy Van Gelder, the sound is so much better than the rest of Palmieri's early records - you can actually hear the bass for once - it's worth checking out purely on that basis. (DBW)

Molasses (1967)
Back to Tico Records and poor sound quality, but there's good stuff here. Palmieri's "Bonbonsito De Pozo" is blistering, driven by Manny Oquendo's rapid-fire percussion. "Tirandote Flores" is the best indication of Palmieri's future direction, an unstoppable left-hand montuno and a space-age, almost free-jazz piano solo: it makes everything else on the record seem like kid stuff. The low point is Quintana exploring his inner lounge lizard on Andre Previn's "You're Gonna Hear From Me." Produced by Pancho Cristal. (DBW)

Bamboléate (Eddie Palmieri/Cal Tjader: 1967)
I thought I had this somewhere, but I can't find the disc. Anyway, a rematch with Tjader. (DBW)

The Experimental Seventies

After the breakup of La Perfecta, Palmieri expanded into a variety of different genres - soul, rock, jazz - while adapting to the changes in New York salsa. Despite the missteps and record company squabbles, Palmieri may have been at his best as a composer during this era, so the records are worth checking out, warts and all. (DBW)

Champagne (1968)
I believe La Perfecta had broken up by now, and Palmieri was testing out different styles, including a boogaloo ("Ay Que Rico") and some cheesy pop ("Here's That Rainy Day"). (DBW)

Justicia (1969)
Palmieri gets political on the title track, contributes a brilliant dance composition "My Spiritual Indian" and an extended jazz odyssey, "Verdict on Judge Street." He also heads for more traditional Cuban territory with "Lindo Yambu." On the downside, "Amor Ciego" is as clichéd as the title implies, and "Everything Is Everything" is lame beat poetry (vocal by Eddie himself) over an uninspired melody - I hope it's some sort of parody. (DBW)

Superimposition (1971)
There's more jazz here: "Que Linda Eso / Eh! Isn't It Pretty" is a middling attempt at the hushed dramatics of Coltrane tunes like "Psalm," and album-closer "Diecisiete Punto Uno" is basically an improvised blowing vehicle. Most of the disc, though is no-bones-about-it salsa, right from the high-powered "La Malanga" through concert staples "Bilongo" and "Chocolate Ice Cream." The leader isn't as out-front as usual, giving the band (particularly the horn section) plenty of space rather than relying on his own solo prowess. The traditional "Pa' Huele," which would have fit comfortably on his mid-60s albums, is a nice change of pace amid the more modern sounds here. Quintana's the main vocalist, though many of the tunes are instrumentals. Palmieri has made better albums, but he covers a lot of bases here, and every cut is decent to outstanding. (DBW)

Vamanos Pa'l Monte (1971)
This may be Palmieri's first truly classic album: the title track is one of Palmieri's best known tunes, and the overall sound is richer and fuller than the previous discs ("Revolt / La Libertad Logico," with killer vamps and thrilling percussion breaks). Big brother Charlie sits in on organ, shepherding the eerie, measured meditation "Caminando." The band is so sharp that even the undercomposed "Comparsa De Los Locos" brims over with vitality and passion. The only problem is another tacky Quintana spotlight: "Yo No Sé," a mawkish bolero slathered with tenor sax. (DBW)

Live at the University of Puerto Rico (rec. 1971, rel. 1973)
The set list here is great ("Muñeca," "The Mod Scene," "Vamanos Pal' Monte"), but Eddie's playing one of those cheesy old electric pianos, and the sound quality of the entire recording leaves a whole lot to be desired. (DBW)

Harlem River Drive (Harlem River Drive: 1971)
Continuing the direction he'd started on Justicia, Eddie put together a band of Latin, black and white musicians to synthesize salsa, rock and R&B. The players include Eddie's brother Charlie on organ, Andy Gonzalez on bass, Cornell Dupree and Bernard Purdie on guitar and drums, and Felipe Luciano on poetry. But there are a lot of problems: the tunes are little more than jams with repeated Temptations-style vocal chants (the endless "Broken Home"). Eddie stays too far in the background, while brother Charlie's organ is too far forward. Worst of all, Jimmy Norman sings four of the five tunes, and his mannered, self-important delivery of the pro-Togetherness lyrics is excruciating ("If (We Had Peace Today)"). The one success is the uptempo "Seeds Of Life," with Latin percussion supplementing the Motown-style groove. (DBW)

Recorded Live At Sing Sing (Eddie Palmieri with Harlem River Drive: 1972)
Released on two separate LPs which I'm reviewing together. Harlem River Drive is the credited band but their soul/salsa stew is only audible on "Somebody's Sons." Luciano also declaims a couple of bilingual poems in Nuyorican Poets Cafe style: he's no Pedro Pietri but his "To the barricades"-style revolutionary brotherhood goes down well with the captive audience ("Un Rifle Oración"). Mostly, though, it's Palmieri's usual, with hits ("Muñeca"; "Azúcar") and some less-recorded tunes (a stomping, ten-minute "V.P. Blues"). The sound is better than University Of Puerto Rico, though Charlie's organ is still easier to hear than his brother's piano. (DBW)

Sentido (1973)
Palmieri left Tico Records for Coco Records, and the recording quality and arrangements (by Rogers) are a bit fuller: the highly orchestrated "Puerto Rico," showcasing trumpeter Victor Paz, is a highlight. Palmieri stretches into rock on "Condiciones Que Existen," and space-jazz on the intro to "Adoración." As usual, though, there is one leaden ballad ("No Pienses Así"). Quintana spread his wings after this release, though he reunited with Palmieri at various points afterwards. (DBW)

The Sun Of Latin Music (1974)
There's a lot of good stuff on this record ("Mi Cumbia," "Nunca Contigo") although almost every idea was done better later on (and maybe earlier too): the extended jam with improvised intro ("Un Día Bonito"), the straight dance tunes ("Nada De Tí"). But the band and new vocalist Lalo Rodriguez sound great, the arrangements are sharp and Eddie's sense of theater is excellent as usual. Plus, he amusingly rips off the Beatles' "You Never Give Me Your Money" on "Una Rosa Española." Eddie's first Grammy. (DBW)

Unfinished Masterpiece (1976)
Unfinished, maybe; a masterpiece, definitely: from the wildly swinging "Kinkamaché" (probably my favorite single Palmieri track) and "Cobarde" to the improvised solo piece "Random Thoughts" to straight jazz on "Resemblance." I've read that this release was put together against Palmieri's will, and that he wasn't happy with it, but it's the best introduction to his work I've heard. Another Grammy. (DBW)

Eddie's Concerto (1976)
Many La Perfecta tunes remade ("Tu Tu Ta Ta," "El Molestoso," "Melao Para El Sapo"), with original vocalist Quintana. (DBW)

Lucumí, Macumba, Voodoo (1978)
Eddie continues to experiment, with batá drums (traditional in the Cuban santería religion), rock guitar and a funky-ass bass line on the title track, and a mini-symphony on side two, "Mi Conga Te Llama." There's also a spirited "piano duel" between Eddie and his brother Charlie on "Colombia Te Canto." The other experiments aren't as successful: two jive fusion efforts with soulless female backing vocals are reminiscent of mid-70s Quincy Jones at his least inspired ("Highest Good"). (DBW)

Eddie's Second Prime

Tied up with contract disputes and other problems, Palmieri spent a few years out of the limelight - and, more importantly, the recording studio - before catching a second wind at the beginning of the 80s. For the next ten years he stayed focused on dance music, and the backing bands and recording quality are up to the standards of the compositions, making this probably his most accessible period. (DBW)

Eddie Palmieri (1981)
Palmieri is reunited with La Perfecta vocalist Ismael Quintana, and almost every cut is a classic: the full orchestral stomp of "El Dia Que Me Quieras," the extended workout "Ritmo Alegre," "Páginas de Mujer" co-written with Francisco Zumaqué - Eddie later sued Gloria Estefan for borrowing the refrain for her "Oye Mi Canto" - and the immortal story of love-done-wrong "No Me Hagas Sufrir." (DBW)

Palo Pa' Rumba (1984)
One of his many Grammy-winning albums, but it's fairly routine for Palmieri: pounding dramatic salsa (title track; "Venezuela") with a couple of slower numbers ("Pensando En Tí"). The uncanny bridge on "1983" is the biggest thrill, but there's nothing the matter with familiar sounding but well played material like "Bajo Con Tumbao" and "Prohibición De Salida." The end of Quintana's return, I believe. (DBW)

Solito (1985)
Another Grammy winner; I haven't heard it but apparently it contains reworkings of his earlier hits. (DBW)

La Verdad (1987)
It sounds like Palmieri got a big budget for this release, but didn't really know what to do with it. The first side has the highest production values I've ever heard on a Palmieri record, and the end result is smooth NY salsa where you can hardly even hear the master's piano. The tunes are fine ("El Cuarto" featuring Tony Vega) but don't build much excitement. Just when you think he's falling into a rut, he shifts gears for a fun, largely improvised piano instrumental ("Linda") and winds things up with the overblown suite "Buscandote," with plenty of instrumental virtuosity from the horn players (including Charlie Sepulveda) spoiled by an unbelievably syrupy, Osmond-like chorus courtesy of the Familia Torres. Palmieri produced this time, and arranged as usual, and I can't really guess what prompted him to go so middle-of-the-road. Anyway, after this he's basically turned his back on contemporary salsa trends. (DBW)

Sueño (1989)
Like fellow jazzperson Thelonious Monk, Palmieri records his hits over and over again. Here he has smoking new versions of "Azúcar," "Verdict on Judge Street," "La Libertad" and "Cobarde"; he also contributes the brilliant instrumental "Just A Little Dream" and "Humpty Dumpty," featuring English-language vocals and rock guitars. Despite the paucity of new material, I may have underrated this one. (DBW)

Llegó La India (1991)
Nuyorican diva India is one of the greatest singers to come along in a long time: daring and dramatic, capable of shifting from a soft whisper to a full-throated roar. Pairing her with Palmieri was a magic combination: India (the first female vocalist he'd ever worked with) inspired him to create the classics "Vivir Sin Tí" and "Yemaya y Ochún," and, with India, the irresistable salsa/Latin hip-hop hybrid "I Wanna Dance." The downside is, in giving so much space to India he doesn't stretch out on any extended solos, and some of the vamps are recycled from earlier work. (DBW)

Elder Statesman Eddie

In the mid-90s, Palmieri moved toward Latin jazz, and has mostly stayed in that bag to this day, though occasionally revisiting and updating the La Perfecta format and tunes. (DBW)

Palmas (1994)
On this almost entirely instrumental set, he's leaning more to his jazz side than he has in years. The band is hot, the tunes are good ("Mare Nostrum" is driven by a funky bassline and Latin chant, and "Slowvisor" and "You Dig" also stand out), but there's not much variety here. (DBW)

Arete (1995)
Instrumental in the same style as Palmas: jazz changes and solos over a powerful Latin rhythm section. Performance-wise, it's an even better fusion of the two genres than Palmas, with fine, sensitive interplay among the musicians (soulful and tender on "Sisters," frenetic on "Oblique"), and some outstanding solo work from Eddie ("Waltz For My Grandchildren"). But the compositions aren't as innovative or interesting as the last time around, often relying on salsa clichés ("Don't Stop The Train"). (DBW)

Vortex (1996)
His third straight instrumental Latin jazz album, and he's trying hard not to fall into a rut: he lifts one tune from Beethoven ("Minuet In G"), adds amateurish, spacey synth to "Displacement," and gets Paoli Meijias to drop an evocative Udu drum solo on "Whirlwind." But too often, the tracks go on forever over grooves that Eddie's done way better before ("Doña Tere," "Vanilla Extract"). For fans, this is worth it just for the suspended chord workout on "Displacement," but anyone else should start with one of his fresher efforts. (DBW)

In 1997, Palmieri appeared on Nuyorican Soul.

El Rumbero Del Piano (1998)
Back to vocal salsa (except for the instrumental "Bug"), but Palmieri's preserved much of the harmonic interest and fierce horn playing of his recent fusion work. He tackles several rhythms he's rarely attempted: plena on his own "Dónde Está Mi Negra," bomba on "El Dueño Monte." But it doesn't make much difference, as everything - including "La Malagueño Salerosa," by Mexican composers Pedro Galindo and Elpidio Ramirez - is transformed into Palmieri's usual glorious bombast. On the one hand, the band is perfectly on point and there are no reruns: all of Palmieri's compositions are new, and he hadn't previously recorded any of the outside tunes either. On the other hand, the new compositions aren't really memorable ("Pas D'Histoires"), the lead vocals (by Hermán Olivera and Wichy Camacho) are generic and unprepossessing, and none of Palmieri's solos rank among his most inspired. Not a bad record, but then Palmieri virtually never makes a bad record, and this isn't one of the great ones. (DBW)

Live! (Eddie Palmieri & Friends: 1999)
A benefit concert recorded in late 1996, this set showcases Palmieri's usual band plus guests Juancito Torres Vélez (trumpet) and Anthony Carillo (bongos). There are five lengthy tunes here, a mix of greatest hits ("Palo Pa' Rumba") and recent Latin jazz ("Slow Visor"), but the mood is unaccountably mellow: Palmieri's bands tend to be hard-hitting no matter what type of music they're playing, and I can't imagine why the sound is so subdued here, unless the setting (the Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture) or the video crew made them overly serious. The result is, the live versions are less vital and exciting than the studio originals (the traditional setcloser "Camagueyanos Y Habaneros" is fast and loud, but even that lacks spark), and you're better off with any of his other 90s work. (DBW)

Masterpiece/Obra Maestra (Tito Puente & Eddie Palmieri: 2000)
Recorded shortly before Puente's death, this superstar collaboration is high-powered big band salsa, blissfully ignoring current trends. There's a parade of guest vocalists, including legends Oscar D'Leon and Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez along with lesser knowns like Herman Olivera, Jerry Medina and Michael Stuart. There are several new compositions and arrangements by each master: Puente wrote and arranged the instrumental "Picadillo Jam" and the excellent "El Puente Mundial"; Palmieri wrote six tunes of which he arranged four, including the thrilling three-part conclusion: "Paris Mambo," "Yambu Pa' Inglaterra" and "Itutu Aché." . And for variety, there's a mariachi medley ("Cielito Lindo/La Negra"), a bolero medley ("Enseñame tú/Piensalo Bien") and a santería invocation (by Milton Cardona) kicking off "Itutu Aché." The problem is, with all the horns (twelve, plus six guest artists including Paquito D'Rivera), vocalists and genre dabbling, there's almost no room left for the leaders: Palmieri and Puente each solo on "Picadillo Jam," and play bits and pieces throughout, but are usually inaudible. Full as the sound is, it's often anonymous ("El Bochinche"), and I for one would've much rather heard the two principals working their idiosyncratic magic backed by a small rhythm section and a few horns. An overdone embarrassment of riches, but still impressive, and it won Puente and Palmieri their umpteenth Grammies. (DBW)

La Perfecta II (2002)
As the title indicates, a resurrection of the approach of Palmieri's early 60s band, and several long-shelved tunes are revived ("Cuídate Compay"). "Tirandote Flores" from Molasses is the only song I know in its original incarnation, and though the band is skilled and well-recorded, the vitality and immediacy of the early recording is solely missed. Still, there's plenty of Palmieri's usual first-rate jazz horns atop first-rate Cuban rhythms ("Shékere Agent Man"). There's one break from the program, the improvised piano-bass-drums "Apeiron." Latin jazz flute titan Dave Valentín gives an astonishing guest performance on "Tu Tu Ta Ta," and though most tracks have conga, güro and timbales, drummer Dafnis Prieto steals the show on the five songs where he appears ("Elena, Elena"). (DBW)

Ritmo Caliente (2003)
Or La Perfecta II II: another mix of remade La Perfecta material ("Lo Que Traigo Es Sabroso") and new, mostly instrumental compositions ("Grandpa Semi-Tone Blues"). "Tema Para Reneé" is a standout, opening with a lovely solo piano improvisation, and then incorporating a lush string quartet arrangement by trumpeter Brian Lynch; the quartet also appears on "Gigue (Bach Goes Batá)." Flute is featured more prominently this time, courtesy of Karen Joseph and Eddy Zervigon, and tunes like "Leapfrog To Harlem" swing impressively hard. Still, the schtick is getting very familiar, and a number of the compositions sound overly familiar ("Billie") or contrived ("Lázaro Y Su Micófono"). (DBW)

Listen Here! (2005)
Palmieri's love of jazz comes back to the fore here: There are Latinized versions of standards like Monk's "In Walked Bud," and Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream"; Eddie's originals vary from Latin rhythms with jazz changes ("EP Blues") to a jazz waltz featuring a batá drum ("Vals Con Batá") to fiery salsa with jazz soloists (violinists Regina Carter's dramatic stirrings on "In Flight"). Most tunes are played by a full horn section, drums and percussion, Michael Brecker is the only horn on the title track (by Eddie Harris), and only Palmieri and bassist John Benítez play on the gentle "Tema Para Eydie." Other high profile guests include John Scofield and bassist Christian McBride. With all those things going for it, why am I so unenthused by this record? Well, the tunes are serviceable but - "In Flight" aside - ordinary, and while the band is appropriately loud and tight, they never generate the rapturous menace that Eddie usually achieves so easily. Produced by Richard Seidel and Palmieri. (DBW)

Simpático (The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project: 2006)
A collaboration with Palmieri's longtime trumpeter, who wrote or co-wrote most of the tunes. High-profile guests include Lila Downs (lead vocals on the ballad "Que Sería La Vida"), altos Phil Woods (a lengthy solo on "Guajira Dubois") and Donald Harrison, conguero Giovanni Hidalgo and Herwig. From the songwriting perspective, there's not much here: remakes of "Páginas De Mujer" and "Azúcar" ("Jazzucar," cluttered with over-arranged brass), familiar-sounding descargas ("The Palmieri Effect"), and themeless improvisations ("Jazz Impromptu"). Eddie and the band sound terrific, though ("Freehands"), and there's more emphasis on horn solos than usual. As with almost everything Eddie puts his name on, this won a Grammy: this time for Latin Jazz. (DBW)

Eddie Palmieri Is Doin' It In The Park (2013)
A soundtrack EP, comprised of four full-length tunes and several fragments ("Give The Drummer Some"), nearly all instrumental. "Locked In" is good ol' Latin jazz, vibes and all; "Bata 2nd & 3rd Movement" is a fancily named, aimless Anthony Carillo percussion solo. (DBW)

Sabiduría (2017)
As I approach fifty, I haven't lost my ability to delight in exuberant young talent, but it sure is comforting when I come across an old with vision and vigor undimmed. I was concerned that Palmieri didn't have much left in the tank, not only because of the long gap between albums but because he'd been recycling himself for a decade before that, and I'm happy to report I was gloriously wrong. Nearly instrumental Latin jazz once again, with fire and bite: the tunes with standard structure and chord changes sound fresh ("Locked In") while the more experimental numbers ("Spinal Volt") sounds perfectly grounded - not to mention tracks that glide effortlessly from one to the other ("Jibarita Y Su Son"). All originals apart from Tjader's "Samba Do Suenho"; all arrangements by Palmieri. While the leader gets in some typically monstrous solos ("Wise Batá Blues"), and "Life" is a solo piano feature, he spends most of the album's real estate showing off his band and a succession of guests: Marcus Miller gives a slap/pop-meets-bop lesson on the title track, which also features heavy guitar from David Spinozza; "Cuerdas Y Tumbao" is basically a forum for Alfredo de la Fe to go to town with both conventional and extended violin techniques; Donald Harrison plays more conventionally but just as enjoyably on "Augustine Parish." Bizarrely, this was recorded in early 2012 but didn't come out for more than five years - don't wait that long to pick it up. (DBW)

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