It isn’t easy being a standard bearer. That adage is especially true when your peers seem to pass on suddenly. Such is the case with the legendary bandleader Eddie Palmieri. In the past few years the world of Latin Jazz and salsa have lost Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, and most recently Cuban diva Celia Cruz. But Palmieri presses on, earning a Latin Grammy nomination for last year’s La Perfecta II
and releasing his new album Ritmo Caliente
(both on Concord Picante) this summer.
"I try not to think about being a ‘standard bearer’", Palmieri said during a telephone interview. "I just keep doing what I feel is right for me. Celia’s passing was sad, and I went way back with Tito, almost forty years. But I have a desire to keep making what I’ve always called ‘Latin Jazz.’"
When asked to elaborate, Palmieri explained, "What passes for mambo or Latin jazz these days is nothing more than a band playing Latin charts with a trap drum kit in the band. I’ve always used multiple layers of percussion - congas, timbales, Cajon, and the like. These are the structures I’ve stuck with: pre-1960 Cuban music. The charts are a bit more complex, but the rhythms are so catchy that people cannot help but to dance to the beat when they hear them."
Although Palmieri has long been a stubborn adherent to his concept of "Latin Jazz", it hasn’t narrowed his appetite for different influences. He is an ardent fan of classical waltzes, and his earliest formal training was in classical conservatory. It is this ability to blend influences that result in a standout track like "Gigue (Bach goes Batá) on Ritmo Caliente
, an ambitious recasting of a classical waltz as a high-energy batá. "I find for me that waltzes are the closest approach to being able to record something different, yet still related to, the jazz genre", Palmieri said. "I’ve always had an infatuation with waltzes, from my earliest lessons. They’re danceable. That’s why I did the Bach number on this record. I like to surprise my audience."
Palmieri also sees a strong future for Latin Jazz music. "Today’s Cuban and Latin orchestras are all unique. They all have unique styles and, even better, solid influences. You take a guy like Jimmy Bosch and his band- they’re frightening players. They’re so solid musically it’s scary. And their approach to the rhythm is similar to what I’ve always played. The textures in the rhythms and the charts they play are pure."
JazzReview would like to thank Mr. Palmieri and the staff at Concord Records for arranging this interview.