How do you improve on perfection? Ask pianist/composer Eddie Palmieri, the world's foremost practitioner of Latin jazz, where salsa (Eddie prefers the term "Afro-Caribbean music") meets straight-ahead improvisation.
The Harlem-born Puerto Rican bandleader first zoomed to fame in the '60s with his Conjunto La Perfecta and its trombone-fueled trombonga sound at New York's Palladium Ballroom -- and has successfully blurred the jazz/Afro-Cuban boundary ever since, matching his percussive, son montuno-based playing (he counts Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell among his favorite pianists) with high-octane arrangements and powerful soloists.
Typically, the perennially innovative Palmieri never considered revisiting La Perfecta's distinctive sound. "It never dawned on me. It almost seemed like blasphemy," he says, until a pair of trombonists, Conrad Herwig and Doug Beavers, prompted him by transcribing the band's original charts. The result is Palmieri's sparkling new CD on Concord Picante, La Perfecta II, and a tour that brings him and his ten-piece orchestra to Alameda's Spotlight on the Square (2203 Mariner Square Loop) Saturday night at 9 p.m. for a benefit concert for the Park Day School in Oakland. Tickets are $25 at the door, $50 VIP reserved (from www.parkdayschool.org).
"We extended the concept of La Perfecta," says Palmieri of the new work. "We added four new Latin jazz tunes and one pure jazz, 'Bianco's Waltz.' As usual, we're concentrating on danceability. The harmonic structure is very important for us. The players can satisfy their desires on jazz, but when they solo, it's with the minimum of chord changes." La Perfecta II has an abundance of soloists -- the Alameda lineup includes Herwig and Reynaldo Jorge on trombones, Eddy Zervigon on flute, trumpeter Brian Lynch, timbalero Jose Claussel, conguero George Delgado, and vocalist Herman Olivera. There could even be a guest appearance by Ignacio, Eddie's young grandson, who shows up on the CD on the tune "Our Routine." Prepare yourself for what Palmieri likes to call "a lyrical, rhythmic, oxygen cocktail."
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