Eddie Palmieri

It's a sign of the times that Eddie Palmieri's new La Perfecta II is both a joyous return to the enormously influential format of his late 1960s band, La Perfecta, and an unfortunate reminder of how boring most of today's salsa really is. While much of modern-day salsa seems to be in a race with itself to trade in any sense of distinctness for a bland sense of pop homogeneity, Palmieri is a glorious throwback to a time when sounding different counted as a plus. It's slightly ironic then, that La Perfecta II is full of the kind of ingenious arrangements and distinctive playing that made Palmieri's original La Perfecta -- with its groundbreaking three-trombones-and-flute format -- such a profound influence on much of the modern salsa and Latin jazz that followed.

Palmieri is to be commended for using the re-formation (although revisitation might be more accurate, as there's only one original member here -- Johnny Rodriguez on bongos -- and the original trombonist and arranger Barry Rogers has long since passed away) of La Perfecta not as a chance to cash in by dutifully trotting out some old dance-floor favorites but as an opportunity to explore this format by pushing it in some interesting new directions. Even the dance-floor-ready new version of "Tirandote Flores II" features some jarringly dissonant piano soloing, and "Apeiron," a free improvisation with Palmieri, the amazing young Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto, and bassist Joe Santiago, is the kind of delightful oddity that could only show up on an Eddie Palmieri record.

Elsewhere Palmieri revels in the kinds of twists and turns that marked the original La Perfecta -- the lush three-trombone harmonies behind flautist Dave Valentine on "Tu Tu Ta Ta II," some spiky piano montunos behind Ivan Renta's tenor-sax solo on "Our Routine" -- all the while sounding unmistakably like no one but Eddie Palmieri. Which is entirely lucky for us.

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Ezra Gale
Contact: Ezra Gale