Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Septet – Hamer Hall, Melbourne (10/06/2016)

Having been performing professionally since his teenage years in the 1950’s, Eddie Palmieri strolled onstage waving, seemingly at ease.

He began with a beautiful solo piano jazz piece titled Life, which was dedicated to his late wife. Better known for his manic, percussive style of playing, it was interesting to note the classical influences in the flowing melody of this new song. Through the silence of the concert hall you could hear the 79-year old’s voice, singing along wordless melodies as he played.

The band then joined him and Palmieri instructed us that a dance floor had been especially cleared for this show and he expected to see people dancing. This was clearly all the encouragement the audience needed as throughout the first song the dancers emerged and by the second the floor was full of bodies.

Having declared in a recent interview with Beat that tonight’s show would concentrate strictly on the trio of Latin Jazz albums he released between 1994-96, it was a welcome surprise to find that the set leaned heavily on the Latin side of that equation.

The lineup consisted of electric upright bass, timbales, congas, bongos, trumpet and saxophone, with Palmieri conducting the action from behind the grand piano.

The band kept the set up-tempo with the piano and bass forming a steady bed upon which the percussionists danced. Camilo Molina’s timbales and Vincente’s congas delivered complicated rhythm patterns, each falling in the small gaps left by the other, leaping and falling with an incredible dexterity yet somehow never stepping on one another’s toes.

The band watched each other closely for cues, and in particular the horns worked by Palmieri’s signals, exiting the stage when their parts finished, waiting in the wings for hand signals to bring them back on.

The famously animated Palmieri was in his usual exuberant form, his face the contorted in pure joy, applauding after a solo as if it were also a surprise to himself, even blowing kisses to Molina after a particular impressive solo.

The group shifted gears with a Thelonius Monk-inspired piece from 2013’s Doin’ It In the Park soundtrack. As with the opening number this was a chance to hear a subtler style of piano playing, freeing Palmieri for a moment from holding down the rhythm section.

Despite his six decades of performing, Palmieri and his septet brought an enthusiasm that was clearly felt throughout the concert hall. This cannot simply be attributed to the music being energetic; the performers, who joked with and complimented each other throughout the show, were also caught up in the excitement emanating from Eddie Palmieri.

Written for Beat Magazine

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