"The Sun of Latin Music," pianist Eddie Palmieri had already made his name in salsa circles by the time he established a combo called La Perfecta in 1961; after that the fame came mixed with notoriety, and it spread far beyond the barrios of his native New York. With that band Palmieri began to create music using the traditions of both Puerto Rico and Cuba, weakening the fire wall that stood between those cultures; at the same time his own piano playing began to display the rich, dark complexity he heard in the fervid jazz piano of Bud Powell (and later McCoy Tyner). By the next decade, his spectacular salsa big band had both jazz and Latin-music fans listening and dancing to something they'd never heard before. Some observers have likened Palmieri to Duke Ellington con salsa, at least partly because of Palmieri's knack for moving "beyond category" (to use Ellington's own phrase) in his music. But these days hard-bop drummer and bandleader Art Blakey makes a more appropriate referent. Palmieri's current octet provides an Afro-Latin translation of Blakey's famous Jazz Messengers, replete with two alumni of the Blakey bands--saxist Donald Harrison, who took over Branford Marsalis's Messengers slot in 1982, and trumpeter Brian Lynch, a member of the Messengers when Blakey died in 1990--and the ebullient trombonist Conrad Herwig, who never played with the Messengers but would have fit in perfectly. But these mensajeros have no traps drummer at all; instead they gather steam from the three-man drum team (congas, bongos, and timbales), and from Palmieri's bear-hug clamp on montunos of every stripe. This performance is part of Ravinia's "Jazz in June" series. Saturday, 3 PM, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 728-4642.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bob Hsiang.