Eddie Palmieri and the Afro-Caribbean Jazz All Stars
RNCM, Manchester, 2 July 2010
Piano legend and Latin band leader extraordinaire, Eddie Palmieri, has been among the crème de la crème of Afro-Cuban musicians for the last forty years or so. The innovations that he pioneered in Latin music at the end of the 1960s and throughout the 1970s onwards, are akin to those of the key musicians in jazz and Palmieri came to be regarded as a leading musical godfather of what is now referred to as salsa. Hard-hitting songs such as ‘Justicia’, ‘Verdict on Judgement Street’ as well as the heartfelt tribute to ‘Puerto Rico’ have meant that Palmieri’s contribution to the genre has been well and truly gargantuan. The list of musicians who have played alongside him reads like the who’s who of Latin music and includes the Gonzalez brothers, bassist Andy and trumpeter/conguero Jerry, timbales legend Manny Oquendo and Cuban greats Israel ‘Cachao’ Lopez on the bass and Alfredo ‘Chocolate’ Armenteros on the trumpet, not forgetting a memorable duet album with timbalero Tito Puente which was the very last recording by the latter musical giant. It is not for nothing that Palmieri has earned the nickname of the ‘Son of Latin music’ and his bands have served a similar apprenticeship as those of Art Blakey and Miles Davis in the jazz world. Parallel to this, Eddie Palmieri has been keen to explore the relationship between Afro-Cuban music and jazz with a separate all-instrumental only line-up. During the 1990s this has become his preferred modus operandi and it was with a pared down six piece band that he took to the stage at the RNCM in front of an expectant audience.
Palmieri immediately embarked upon a solo intro before his rhythm section comprising timbales, congas and bass entered proceedings and settled into a gentle rumba with the leader vamping on piano to marvellous effect. Eddie Palmieri is now in his mid-seventies and if the driving piano chords of his early years are not quite as ferocious in their intensity as previously, it is simply that Eddie is infinitely wiser and able to incorporate a wider ranger of variations. On this evening he seemed more in jazz mode, taking on board the pianistic innovations of both Bill Evans and Thelonius Monk as well as Latin piano masters of the calibre of the great Peruchín. As the band demonstrated throughout the evening, this group effortlessly shifts gear from a sedate pace to a more frenetic one before returning to the former tempo. Among the distinguished musicians to have graced Palmieri’s band, current trumpeter Brian Lynch is one of the longest serving and fully deserving of a place with the likes of Chocolate. An apprenticeship first with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and then with left-field salsero Angel Canales has served Lynch well and given him a broad musical perspective from which to develop. In tone he has the same intensity of sound as Lee Morgan and Kenny Dorham, both equally adept in bop and Latin idioms. Lynch is very ably abetted on the alto saxophone by young Cuban musician Yosvany Terry, an altoist inspired at times by the fiery tones of Jackie McLean, but whose laid back, soulful approach is all his own.
For non-aficionados of Afro-Cuban music, the archetypal rhythm section is a major departure from the usual rock format. Timbales player José Clausell has been a staple member of the band for well over a decade and was totally at ease taking an ear shattering solo, or blending to the overall sound by playing on the timbales rim in concertation with the other percussionist, conguero Vincente Rivera who was apt to verbally encourage the other musicians. Finishing off the rhythm section was young bassist Luque Curtis, whom eddie in turn would actively encourage to take a solo. The fluidity and surefire nature of the bassist’s playing recalled the young Eddie Gomez in Bill Evans’ trio.
Collectively the Afro-Caribbean Jazz All Stars impress above all on the mid-tempo numbers with catchy bass riffs, intricate percussive polyrhythms and the leader himself, in relaxed mood, evidenced by his tendency to groan when taking a piano solo. Among the classic pieces to choose from the seemingly bottomless repertoire, one piece, ‘17.1’ from the seminal album, ‘Superimposition’, received a classic treatment with the band going up several years in the process and the horn players maintaining the blistering pace and then outdoing one another in some fiery solo slots. One technique employed by the band is the use of the false start, before Eddie would announce, ‘And now for our next number!’, much to the receptive audience’s delight. Elsewhere a gentle solo interlude from Palmieri was a pretext to display his jazz-loving credentials and this helped to create a relaxed atmosphere, typified during the interval by timbales player Clausell happily chatting with members of the audience and seen taking photos with them. Two fifty minute sets provided a fitting climax to an evening that never once ventured into clichés and where the audience were left at the end wanting more. A standing ovation gave the band all the information they required as to how the audience felt about the evening’s performance.