The year was 1973 and visionary bandleader and keyboardist Charlie Palmieri was riding high on the success of El Gigante Del Teclado—the seminal 1972 session he had recorded for the Alegre label. The LP had spawned the song that to this day stands as Palmieri’s greatest hit—the irresistible La Hija de Lola. ...MORE >
The year was 1973 and visionary bandleader and keyboardist Charlie Palmieri was riding high on the success of El Gigante Del Teclado—the seminal 1972 session he had recorded for the Alegre label. The LP had spawned the song that to this day stands as Palmieri’s greatest hit—the irresistible La Hija de Lola.
Palmieri returned to the studio favoring a similar format: a dynamite conjunto eager to play tight, concise dance jams that at the same time had enough latitude in them to allow for the inclusion of jazzy instrumental solos. The group's brass lineup was made up of two trumpet players and Bobby Nelson alternating between flute and sax. The tight rhythm section boasted the classy percussive chops of timbalero Quique Dávila. The backup vocalists was a royal assembly of stars that included Adalberto Santiago, Ismael Quintana and Yayo El Indio.
Puerto Rican crooner Vitín Avilés (1924-2004) returned as lead vocalist. His similarity in style and tone with the legendary Tito Rodríguez ignited plenty of gossip and speculation at the time. In reality, both singers were personal friends and Avilés stated repeatedly in interviews that he felt honored by the comparisons.
Finally, El Gigante himself had ample opportunity to shine with his transcendental solos on the piano and organ. The kind of solos, it should be pointed out, that make you feel grateful for the advent of recording technology. El Gigante may not be with us anymore, but his unique sound lives on—solos that creep under your skin with their idiosyncratic combination of raw swing and old fashioned elegance. Charlie’s solos—those funky, savage, exhilarating solos—are inevitably the highlight of his entire recorded output.
"Charlie was an outstanding musician," recalls Johnny Pacheco, the Dominican flutist and bandleader who in 1959 founded the trendsetting Duboney charanga together with Palmieri and Avilés. "Both Charlie and his younger brother, Eddie, had a lot of flavor in their playing. But Eddie favored a simpler, more típico sound. Charlie's technique was just outstanding. He could have played recitals of classical music if he had wanted to. As a person, he had a great sense of humor."
Palmieri's weakness for picaresque narrative songwriting is apparent in his version of Raúl Marrero’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. Engaging in a hilarious interplay with his backup vocalists, Avilés proposes running away to China, right before the trademark vocal call of El Gigante de las Blancas y las Negras (The Giant of the Piano Keys) inspires Palmieri to launch into one of his trademark solos.
Avilés also shines on the buoyant Despierta Julián, a party anthem marked by an implacable groove, soaring choruses and a sample of Charlie Palmieri at his eccentric best—his nearly baroque organ solo is delightfully retro, almost dissonant and thoroughly unexpected.
There is a rainbow of moods on this session—living testimony of a fruitful era when albums were supposed to tell a multi-layered story packed with moments of joy and sadness, including space for reckless dancing and moody reflection. Charlie Palmieri left this world in 1988, leaving an irreplaceable void in the landscape of Afro-Caribbean music. Fortunately, his genius shines through the moving soundscapes of Vuelve El Gigante.
Charlie Palmieri – Piano, Organ Melodica, Percussion
Lou Laurita –Trumpets
Rudolfo Manzano – Trumpets
Bobby Nelson – Tenor Sax and Flute
Bobby Rodriguez – Fender Bass
“Quique” Davila – Timbales
Willie Rodriguez – Bongo
Luis Rodriguez – Conga
Chorus – Yayo El Indio, Adalberto Santiago, Ismael Quintana
Arrangements – Charlie Palmieri, Tito Puente (“El Cantante Del Amor”), Sonny Bravo (“Depierta Julian”), Ray Santos (“Chocolate)
Thanks to Pedro “Chocolate” Armentero, Charlie Palmieri Jr., and Sharon Borie. John Steinway for use of his miniature piano.
Recorded – Generation Sound Studios, NY
Engineer – Tony May (Recording and Remixing)
Original Photography and Art Design – John Dentato
Project Coordinator – Miriam Vazquez
Producer – Joe Cain