Eddie Palmieri | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Eddie Palmieri 

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EDDIE PALMIERI

The worst news I've had all year: the scintillating salsa pianist and bandleader Eddie Palmieri will not lead his full-scale jazz orchestra in Chicago as originally announced, but will instead appear at the helm of a seven-piece band, as small a group as he's led in years. But though we lost the opportunity to see the big band in what would have been its first Chicago appearance this decade, we can still sink our teeth into the smorgasbord of sounds that Palmieri can draw from the keyboard in any format: he might set up dramatically placed colors and tension-building tone clusters, or slice through his own intricate textures with double-octave lines. Alternatively, his piano might become a giant tuned drum, as he pounds precise accents to further complicate the interlocking polyrhythms of his percussion section. At the beginning of his career, the Puerto Rican Palmieri turned heads in the New York barrios by fusing Cuban music--the motherlode of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and sonorities--with his own heritage; when he added bop-influenced piano work to the mix, his music began to circulate in downtown jazz circles as well. Palmieri reached an apotheosis with his fantastical early-70s big-band albums, The Sun of Latin Music and Unfinished Masterpiece (now available on CD from the poorly distributed MP label); since then he has also worked in smaller formats, most notably the delightful Jazz Messengers-style groups of nine or ten musicians with which he recorded his last three albums. In the band Palmieri brings to Chicago, with two horns, bass, and a trio of hand drummers (replacing the single traps player found in most jazz combos), only Tony Lujan stands out, but he alone could tip the scales: the trumpeter has recorded two albums of his own, both overflowing with the molten brass that Palmieri's music demands. The band opens for Roy Hargrove, who appeared at Ravinia over the summer with his own Latin-flavored group but returns with a 17-piece big band in its Chicago debut. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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