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REVIEW: The Latin Jazz Master at Work: Eddie Pamilieri (Dakota Jazz Club)

The legendary pianist-composer and bandleader Eddie Palmieri played at The Dakota Jazz Club on February 9. Photo courtesy of Uprising Music NYC.

Eddie Palmieri is 83 years old, has won numerous Grammy awards, and has over 50 albums released over 50-plus years of recording. In 2013, what everyone knew was made official: the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Palmieri NEA’s Jazz Master Award. The same year, he was also awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. Last night at The Dakota, the many aspects of Palmieri were well on display: composer, arranger, bandleader, and, of course, pianist.

Palmieri is more than an ordinary musician; more recently, he even contributed to an interactive Salsa music app. Over the course of the evening, Palmieri – relaxed in sweatshirt and jeans, but exuding alternatively playfulness and musical intensity – shared bits of his performance and personal history.

There’s a lot of history for Palmieri to draw on. He spoke of his work with Carl Tjader and Tito Puente, nights performing at the Palladium Ballroom in Midtown Manhattan, and his marriage of 62 years to Iraida Palmieri, who passed away six years ago. He also spoke at length about the roots and structures of Latin Jazz. (For a related video explanation, see “Walk that Bass”.)

Eddi Palmieri at the piano at the Dakota Jazz Club on Sunday, February 9. Photo by Brian Bix.

The evening began with Palmieri playing solo, in a slow classical mode flavored with distinctive, Thelonious Monk-style dissonance. Suddenly, the beat and the band were added, and we were in “Poinciana”, an early Tjader/Palmieri song. Other songs in the set included another Tjader/Palmieri work, “Samba Do Sueño”, and Palmieri’s song in honor of his wife (written when she was dying), “Mi Luz Mayor”.

Towards the end of the set, Palmieri invited up Eric Leeds, a saxophone player best known for his work with Prince, and the band played one of Eric Leeds’ original compositions. As Palmieri noted, Eric’s brother, Alan Leeds, wrote liner notes for one of Palmieri’s albums.

On the whole, Palmieri stayed in the background, distributing the solos across the other five band members. Brian Lynch on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Louis Fouché on saxophone (also a member of Stephen Colbert’s band) were frequently featured and were more than worthy of the attention. All the musicians were masterful, and one could see Palmieri nodding appreciatively throughout. It is because of Palmieri’s many efforts – as composer, arranger, and, here, as bandleader – that Latin Jazz will be in good hands as it is passed to the next generation of Masters.

A promotional photo of Eddie Palmieri. Photo courtesy of Uprising Music NYC.
Brian Bix