In interview after interview, Eddie Palmieri has repeatedly stated that his older brother Charlie was a much better piano player than him. In reality, comparing Charlie and Eddie Palmieri is an exercise in futility. Both are revered as phenomenally talented performers and bandleaders whose lasting influence on the history of Latin music cannot be underestimated. That said, one listen to the 16 tracks on this disc is enough for Afro-Caribbean aficionados to understand what Eddie was talking about when he proudly stated that Charlie was the real Rey De Las Blancas y Las Negras - The King of the Piano Keys. ...MORE >
In interview after interview, Eddie Palmieri has repeatedly stated that his older brother Charlie was a much better piano player than him. In reality, comparing Charlie and Eddie Palmieri is an exercise in futility. Both are revered as phenomenally talented performers and bandleaders whose lasting influence on the history of Latin music cannot be underestimated. That said, one listen to the 16 tracks on this disc is enough for Afro-Caribbean aficionados to understand what Eddie was talking about when he proudly stated that Charlie was the real Rey De Las Blancas y Las Negras - The King of the Piano Keys.
So how were these two giants different from one another? Eddie favored psychedelic chords and dissonant atmospherics. He kept the dancers happy with orgiastic salsa funkathons - but his thirst for experimentation was not easily quenched.
Charlie Palmieri, on the other hand, was a more conservative soloist. His spectacular sense of swing was elegant and restrained. There's something velvety about his arrangements - even when his orchestra achieves pinnacles of fiery danceability. Charlie's sound harks back to the delicate dynamics of vintage pianists like Cuba's Peruchín and Puerto Rico's Noro Morales.
This compilation follows the evolution of Charlie Palmieri's artistry, from the innocence of his early '60s days with the wonderfully old fashioned Charanga Duboney, the transition from charanga to spirited conjunto in the second half of the '60s, and his blossoming as a progressive bandleader throughout the '70s.
Palmieri may not be with us anymore, but his unique sound lives on. His solos - those funky, savage, exhilarating solos - are the highlight of this collection.
The son of Puerto Rican parents, Carlos Manuel Palmieri Jr. was born in New York City in 1927. During the '40s and '50s, he made a name for himself in the local Latin scene performing with luminaries such as Tito Puente, Xavier Cugat, Vicentico Valdés and Tito Rodríguez.
The first four tracks on this compilation are culled from his classic trio of charanga releases for the Alegre label with the Duboney - the orchestra he created with future Fania founder Johnny Pacheco. Here, Palmieri follows the classic charanga parameters of joyful flute lines and spirited layers of violins, but he also experiments with bossa nova on 1963's self penned "Amor For Two," and delivers an earth shattering bolero on 1962's "Lágrimas y Tristezas," which includes Víctor Velázquez on vocals.
The swinging "Estoy Buscando A Kako" was originally included on the first release by the legendary Alegre All Stars, the jam band (and predecessor of the Fania All Stars) of which Palmieri was the piano player and musical director.
The humorous "Fat Papa" is the opening track of the 1967 session Either You Have It Or You Don't (Hay Que Estar En Algo), which found the piano player indulging in some silly boogaloo fun as a nod to the predominant trend of the times.
In 1969, Palmieri became the musical director of the television show El Mundo De Tito Puente. He also became known as a sympathetic educator, teaching the marvels of Latin music to young people, and collaborated with his brother Eddie on recordings such as the seminal Live At Sing Sing. His psychedelic organ solo on Eddie's Vámonos Pa'l Monte is rightfully considered to be a seminal moment in salsa history.
In 1972, the album El Gigante Del Teclado ushered a new era of artistic maturity for Palmieri, who perfected a more sophisticated sound marked by lengthy improvisations, jazzy arrangements and the velvety vocals of Puerto Rican crooner Vitín Avilés. "La Hija De Lola" was Charlie's biggest hit single, covered by many a salsa band in future years. "Sedante De Rhumba" swings mercilessly while maintaining an exquisite air of nostalgia about it.
Palmieri's weakness for picaresque narrative songwriting is apparent in 1973's "La Vecina." Performed by a gleeful Avilés, the tune tells the story of a young man whose sensuous neighbor is intent on seducing him. But there's a snag: the woman is married to the infamous Pica Pica (Chop Chop), the barrio's bloodthirsty butcher.
Avilés also shines on the buoyant "Despierta Julián," a party anthem marked by an implacable groove, soaring choruses and a sample of Palmieri at his eccentric best: his nearly baroque organ solo is delightfully retro, almost dissonant and thoroughly unexpected.
On "El Susto," the opening track of the 1975 album Adelante, Gigante, Avilés sings about sleeping for three days straight after ingesting dozens of oysters and some fish soup too. He is taken for dead and placed in a coffin muy vestidito de negro (very much dressed up in black). Fortunately, he awakens in time to prevent being buried alive. Avilés' gentlemanly delivery, reminiscent of his good friend and compatriot Tito Rodríguez, adds an aristocratic tinge to this tall tale of an unforgettable fiasco.
Also included in Adelante, Gigante, Palmieri's version of Noro Morales' “Tema de María Cervantes” is transcendental, particularly during the section when Charlie's hypnotic piano pattern is complemented by Quique Dávila's tasteful timbales solo.
Culled from the 1978 session The Heavyweight, "Melodica In 'F'" is an eight-minute descarga that begins on a surprisingly solemn mood, with Charlie performing a plaintive, march-like melody on the melodica framed by fiery brass riffs. A lovely tres interlude is followed by the tune's hypnotic chorus: Para bailar el danzoncito/Hay que tener mucho compás (In order to dance the little danzón/You need to have plenty of rhythm). That's when the tune really comes to life. Boosted by the timbales' staccato cowbell, as well as cries of encouragement from the vocalists, Charlie delivers one of his priceless piano solos - gutsy and sophisticated at the same time.
The track ends with some downright dissonant melodica notes and humorous underpinnings, demonstrating that Palmieri was never the kind of bandleader to take himself too seriously.
Charlie Palmieri passed away in 1988 at age 60. In subsequent years, new generations of salseros made a name for themselves by capturing the public spotlight, and the remarkable creations of this one-of-a-kind keyboardist were remembered and treasured only by serious Afro-Cuban aficionados. Now, the release of this compilation in the Heritage series gives us an opportunity to rediscover some of the most original and underrated gems in the Fania treasure trove.