‘El gigante de las blancas y las negras’, the ‘King of the ivories’, is how is fondly referred to among Latin music cognoscenti, but some simply refer to him as the Messiah, such is his high standing among those in the know. In reality, pianist Eddie Palmieri is arguably the most innovative musician in the history of Latin music, and for some on a par with Miles Davis. That is quite a statement and both Antonio Carlos Jobim and Machito may legitimately lay claim to that mantle in Latin Americana. However, what is beyond dispute is that Palmieri is a masterful composer and pianist and revolutionised the face of Latin music from the mid-1960s onward, always showcasing and nurturing some of the very greatest talent, and some have returned to the fold and they include Ronnie Cuber, Conrad Herwig and Nicky Marrero, though the current intake are as caliente (hot) as ever. For this latest recording, Palmieri has chosen to revisit some of his earlier classics and reinvest them with his natural dynamism. Present and previous band members are on board for the trip and the listener had better be ready because no prisoners will be taken when this band is on fire.
The album commences with the outstanding, ‘Vamonos Pa’l Monte’, originally recorded as the title track on the 1971 album, and this is no less than a stirring rendition, with coros, or vocal harmonies, and it exists here in two separate and contrasting versions. The former, a steaming salsa meets Latin jazz opus, while the latter that bookends the album features an extended big band format. A real personal favourite is the no bars hold, ‘Oyelo que te conviene’, which is the most condensed piece at just over five minutes. Another winner is the mid-1980s piece, ‘Palo pa’ rumba’, that fizzles with intensity from start to finish, with trumpet solos and one of those famous extended Palmieri piano solos that combines the left-field quirkiness of Thelonius Monk with the modal expansiveness of McCoy Tyner, and the subtle sophistication of Bill Evans. Eddie Palmieri has interiorised all these formative influences along Cuban pianists of renown and made it his own distinctive voice. In a smouldering mid-tempo groove, ‘Lindo yambu’, dates from the late 1960s when political consciousness among Puerto Ricans was at its zenith, while going way back to the mod-1960s, ‘Muñeca’, has long been a favourite among Palmieri devotees. Eddie Palmieri goes full circle on this terrific album and new listeners to his immense craft will want to supplement their existing knowledge by accessing the originals. Muy saboroso!