Timing is everything. When Concord Records executive producer John Burk signed Eddie Palmieri to the label, not only was Palmieri at the brink of a resurgence in popularity, but also he finally was convinced to revisit his well-remembered band from the 1960’s, La Perfecta, despite his previous reluctance to do so. All of a sudden, Eddie Palmieri made up for lost time, and La Perfecta II
was met with widespread critical plaudits. Now, with the passing of Tito Puente, more than one critic is calling Palmieri the patriarch of Latin music as he enthuastically takes the music to the people.
Palmieri’s second Concord release, Ritmo Caliente,
is a more complex project in some ways than La Perfecta II
because it ventures into a wider range of styles, and successfully. Instead of revising his past recordings, which Palmieri is reluctant to do anyway, he refers to the many influences that helped create his style, from Puente to Thelonious Monk, from Machito to MyCoy Tyner. Now that his new band has been reconfigured, Palmieri continues to use some of the same musicians from the first Concord release, including Hermán Olivera, Conrad Herwig, Brian Lynch and George Delgado. But the fact that drummer Dafnis Prieto is missing from Ritmo Caliente
is significant in the fact that he has been replaced by an entire percussion section of bongos, congas and timbales, in most cases, for more polyrhythmic textures.
And over those textures, Palmieri plays as if in opposition to them, the percussionists continuing seamlessly while Palmieri staggers the meter, as he does on "Las voz del Caribe." On "Tema para Reneé," a dedication to his daughter, Palmieri expands upon the theme with a long introduction, combining dissonance with strings of arpeggios before Lynch gently takes over the melody in burnished legato round tones.
As always, Palmieri’s ability to attract listeners relies upon the joy he spreads through his music, its purported mathematic basis belying the irresistibility of its danceable rhythms. And despite the seriousness of Palmieri’s cause of presenting Latin music as an art form supremely worthy of analysis and respect, his compositions contain more than a sprinkling of humor. Take "Grandpa Semi-Tone Blues," for example. Built upon a simple riff that Palmieri develops during the first chorus (followed by a second chorus of the horns playing the same riff in unconventional harmony), the tune reveals itself eventually as a blues. But a blues that features Karen Joseph improvising on flute over bassist Joe Santiago’s rock-steady pulse in conjunction with the percussionists polyrhythms. "Leapfrog to Harlem," consisting of brassy assertions and Ivan Renta’s tenor sax work over a mambo beat, recalls Palmieri’s initial inspiration by the music during his childhood in Spanish Harlem, the music of Tito Rodriguez and Puente ever-present. The CD’s concluding track, "Lo Que Triago es Sabroso II," is reminiscent of that Nuyorican music as well, Palmieri’s arrangement allowing for Olivera’s vocals to feed into the response of the coros
while the trumpets and trombones add the punch and colors.
Even the most "serious" of the tracks, "Gigue (Bach Goes Batá)," disarms the listener with the reconciliation of the contrasting forms suggested by the title. As Palmieri’s performance of Bach’s composition unfolds, it leads as expected into the rich elegance of Latin brass, including tuba, exchanging cultural attitudes with a string quartet of European harmonic origin.
Devotees of salsa will welcome Palmieri’s latest project, as well as the fact that he has found a recorded outlet for his talent and his ability to inspire others with the spirit of his music.