In the last 30 years few if any musicians have extended the language of Latin jazz as much as pianist Eddie Palmieri. While the confluence of the mambo craze and the rise of bebop in the 40s brought striking fusions in the music of Dizzy Gillespie and Machito, by the late 50s Latin jazz had lost its mainstream appeal and eventually fell under the all-inclusive Afro-Caribbean rubric of salsa. Born in Spanish Harlem in 1936, Palmieri started out as a Latin-music purist, resisting the influential spell of jazz until Art Blakey's classic 1958 recording of the Benny Golson tune "Moanin'" liberated his mind to the different ways horns and percussion could interact. In the 60s he debuted his own band, employing a front line of all trombones rather than the standard trumpets, and since then he's consistently made excellent records fired by dense polyrhythms, tight, often complex arrangements, and intricate solos, particularly of his own playing, which combines the harmonic sophistication of Bud Powell and McCoy Tyner, the dissonance of Thelonious Monk, and the infectious rhythmic patterns of a timbale player. (Though forced by his mother to play piano, Palmieri was originally hell-bent on being a percussionist, and his strong rhythmic inclinations have remained to color his distinctive style.) Last year he recorded his first instrumental album, the striking Palmas (Elektra Nonesuch), with a devastating rhythm section and the top-notch horn section of trombonist Conrad Herwig, trumpeter Brian Lynch, and saxophonist Donald Harrison--the latter two alumni of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. By and large that same exciting group performs with Palmieri this weekend. Saturday, 3:30 PM, Chicago Jazz Festival, Jackson Stage, Grant Park, Jackson and Lake Shore Drive; 744-3315.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joel Meyerowitz.