It took Eddie Palmieri a long time to agree to record his La Perfecta band again. After all, the group hadn’t recorded since the 1960’s, and Palmieri felt that he couldn’t re-create the sound of his conjunto
without the participation of the co-founder, Barry Rogers, who died in 1991. But Palmieri’s respect for, and trust in, trombonist Conrad Herwig gave him confidence that such a re-creation could be possible, after all. Possessing intense pride in La Perfecta’s concept and sound, Palmieri the perfectionist wasn’t ready to re-record until he felt that the musicians he employed could do justice to the spirit of the original music. For, as Palmieri says, "To perform [La Perfecta arrangements] would be nothing short of blasphemous." And quite frankly, Palmieri felt that he had the perfect situation with Concord Records, which had accorded him the resources he felt that his music deserved.
While Latin band leaders like Tito Puente enjoyed more consistent success, during all of the years of Palmieri’s relative absence, a cult following continued to grow. Don Byron, for example, is a strong proponent of Palmieri’s music and the influence of Palmieri’s groove and originality on the Latin music that followed. While Puente and Machito featured trumpets and saxophones, Palmieri developed out of economic necessity a two-trombone-singer-and-flute sound that became his trademark. Few of the leading trumpet players in the 1960’s were Latin, and none of them offered the loyalty to stay with Palmieri’s band, as did Rogers.
Performing once again some of the music of the original group, La Perfecta II lets a new generation appreciate the irresistibility of the music, extroverted and deep in a groove on the surface, but actually complex and structured underneath. For, Palmieri’s work on "Cuídate Compay II" apparently goes against the grain of the beat, omnipresent and firm in its progress, until he slides into the signature vamp, similar to Puente’s "Oye Como Va." But the penultimate pleasure of that track is the dynamism of the trombones, or the band’s "trombanga," wherein its swelling phrase gains intensity with each repetition. A student of and believer in Schillinger’s mathematical approach to music, Palmieri applies absolutely serious endeavor to the making of fun in his music, as he applies geometrical concepts to art. And surprisingly, Palmieri’s favorite composers, when he’s listening to music at leisure, are Chopin and Debussy, among others.
But Palmieri will have none of the feathery Impressionistic approach to his music, in spite of the ruminative and free trio approach to "Apeiron," which is more of an ominous Rachmaninoff anger and decisive assertion than Debussy. Palmieri’s aggressive style, with a heavy keyboard touch, remains throughout all of the tracks on La Perfecta II,
either making clear the clavé animating the piece or laying down chords of accompaniment behind his soloists.
The musicianship within La Perfecta pulls in the audience, even if hearing Palmieri’s music for the first time, as they improvise at length, but never without a point, or as they propel a tune’s theme to new heights with humor and professionalism. As numerous trombonists bemoan the lack of opportunity for performing jazz, Palmieri’s creativity has opened up an avenue for them, as well as for jazz flute, that seems, well, perfect for accomplishing his artistic intent. Hearing Herwig and trumpeter Brian Lynch go at it on "Our Routine"--feeding ideas to each other and ignoring technical obstacles that would daunt lesser players--is an exciting experience, no matter how familiar with listener is with Palmieri’s music. And the trombone choir effect that his arrangements establish, as on "El Molestoso II," add depth and richness, as a legato background for the singers or as a means to punch out concluding thought with bold-faced exclamation points.
At its most elemental and most profound levels, La Perfecta II is outgoing entertainment, deceptively complex in its accessibility. Even after 40 years and an unfortunate lack of recording opportunities, Eddie Palmieri has come back full force, reminding us of the transcendent appeal of his music.