Eddie Palmieri, a nine-time Grammy award winning pianist, and a leading artist in Latin jazz for over the last 50 years, celebrated his 75th birthday Sunday night at the Mayne Stage, in Rogers Park.
Palmieri performed a live concert for his fans Sunday night with multiple collaborators, in order to instill the sense of sporadicy and improvisation jazz music symbolizes.
The intent of Palmieri’s performance was to raise the value of the Mayne theater as a house for jazz, while providing an excellent night filled with his famous piano playing.
Read more here at The Chicago Tribune:
Not that Palmieri, a famously extroverted pianist-bandleader, played with full fire throughout this set. Instead, he paced himself, letting the quartet he’s co-leading with trumpeter Brian Lynch generate much of the evening’s energy. It was Palmieri, however, who shrewdly orchestrated the proceedings, spontaneously cuing his collaborators to launch dramatic solos or to converge for maximum impact.
More important, Palmieri’s pianism stood out for its adventurousness and its refusal to pander to Latin-jazz cliches. Practically any competent pianist who knows his way around clave rhythm can get an audience swaying. Palmieri did something more difficult, interrupting the inevitable dance beats with free-form passages that suspended rhythmic pulse entirely. At the same time, he reveled in unpredictable harmonies, obliquely fragmented phrases and sometimes austere keyboard textures.
Clearly, the man enjoys keeping his band mates guessing. Surely no one – perhaps not even Palmieri himself – knew exactly when his solos would end, his tempos abruptly shift, his musical direction change course. This made the opening half of the show a fascinating experiment in jazz improvisation wholly distinct from Latin musical vernacular.
The hush of the crowd suggested either that listeners were fascinated or waiting patiently (or impatiently) for the Eddie Palmieri/Brian Lynch Jazz Quartet to get fully into gear. While they waited, Palmieri, Lynch, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Dafnis Prieto ventured into remote chordal regions and abstract musical thought of a sort one sooner expects to encounter in a hard-core jazz club very late at night.
Eventually, of course, the Palmieri-Lynch quartet produced the Afro-Caribbean backbeats everyone was waiting for, yet here, too, the music carried considerable intellectual weight. Palmieri turned to Prieto – a 2011 winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, or “genius grant” – to generate much of the evening’s heat. Though Prieto has played Chicago before, this post-MacArthur appearance inspired much audience buzz and anticipation.
The drummer acquitted himself quite well, producing plenty of power without resorting to bombast, his attacks sharp, his rhythmic ideas crisply layered. Still, a little more subtlety and little less sustained volume would have made his case stronger.
Palmieri and Lynch have worked together in various contexts for years, and it showed, the trumpeter riding the pianist’s surging rhythms as if by instinct. The high point for both musicians came toward the end of the concert, in Palmieri’s “Crew.” Lynch produced his most exuberant, technically accomplished solos here, the rhythm players churning relentlessly behind him.
The quartet upped its volume, rhythmic drive, intensity – everything, really – in an encore, “Comparsa.” Its Afro-Cuban syntax inspired incendiary solos from Lynch, Curtis and Prieto, while Palmieri was content to discreetly stoke the music-making from the keyboard, letting the younger men bask in glory.
All of this sounded dynamic at the Mayne Stage, notwithstanding Palmieri’s slightly over-amplified piano. By any measure, this uncommonly intimate theater serves acoustic jazz exceedingly well, and the more this music emerges here, the better.