Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Eddie Palmieri: Latin Warrior And His Band Protect The Honor Of Yoshi's

In a small concert hall that allows its patrons to eat sushi from the adjacent restaurant while watching performers, Yoshi’s Jazz and Sushi would seem to the average out-of-towner to be a novelty joint that would not offer topnotch performers of the jazz world on a nightly basis. However, Yoshi’s has established itself as arguably the best jazz venue in the whole Bay Area, and Eddie Palmieri and his band, La Perfecta Dos (the “sequel” to his original 1960’s-era band, La Perfecta) more than maintained that reputation on Sunday (December 10th).

Palmieri and his band are major frequenters of jazz festivals worldwide, and I expect to see him on multiple festival stages later this year, though this show was an excellent preview for later festival outings.

There were two shows that night, and I went to see the 9 p.m. show, as tickets to the 7 p.m. show were already sold out. The 200-plus crowd, at least half of whom joined me in the around-the-block line outside the club that was mercifully warmed on this Arctic night by overhead heaters, came to the show ready to dance and would turn the middle aisle of the concert hall into a packed-to-the-gills dance floor by the halfway mark of Palmieri’s set. Of course, to anyone who knows Palmieri’s energetic brand of salsa, mambo, and Latin jazz, this is usually something to be expected. Palmieri, the band leader, pianist, and back-up vocalist, and his band- Herman Olivera on lead vocals, Giovanni Hidalgo on congas, Eddie Zervigon on flute, Jimmy Bosch and Joe Fielder on trombone, Eddie Resto on bass, Anthony Carillo on bongos, Jose Claussell on timbales, and John Santos on Coro- delivered flawless, high-energy grooves in every song, while sometimes taking off in polyrhythms and varying meters in the middle of the song, and sporadically starting off higher-energy numbers with a ballad-like piano prelude, all just to keep everything fresh.

The icing on the cake, however, was how much the musicians were visibly involved in and enthusiastic towards the music they were creating- the entirety of the set showcased every single musician with an ear-to-ear grin on his face, except at the grimace-filled times when they were straining to get out that last line of notes or beats on time with the most power possible. The only time this passion ever detracted from the overall vibe of the concert, in my mind, was when Hidalgo took an extended conga solo, which left the percussionist to play by himself in the middle of the last song of the set; while it was in its own right incredible, the solo seemed out of place in a set of songs driven by the collective effort of 10 musicians.

Unfortunately, neither band leader Palmieri or lead vocalist Olivera formally introduced any of their songs in the set, so I, who was not and still am not particularly familiar with Palmieri’s material, was not able to discern the definite names of any songs played during Palmieri’s show. However, from the words of the mantras that were repeated by Olivera throughout the duration of some of the songs, I was able to make an educated guess that the names of the four songs that really showcased Palmieri and his band’s explosive power were “Echando ‘pa Lante”, “Con La Perfecta”, “Allegria”, and “Lengua Su Cante”. In both “Allegria” and “Echando ‘pa Lante”, the bongo solos performed by Carillo were able to lock into the groove while still rocketing into the stratosphere with their machine-gun tempo, while Olivera constantly engaged the crowd with his charisma and dancing and Bosch and Fielder flailed back and forth like two human Slinkies while shooting fireball harmonies out of their trombones. Meanwhile, “Con La Perfecta” and “Lengua Su Cante” were of the more low-key variety, yet the songs still maintained the power of the faster numbers through the virtuoso chromatic playfulness of Palmieri during his piano solos and polyrhythms from the bongos, congas, and timbales that charged the groove of the songs and kept them from becoming the least bit tiresome.

Shortly after “Lengua Su Cante” (the last song of the set) had concluded and the band walked off the stage, the Yoshi’s MC announced that Eddie had left the building. It was a slight disappointment for the 100-strong contingent of fans clamoring for an encore, but the explosive show put on by Palmieri proved that Yoshi’s is still more than making good on its promise to deliver great music, along with great raw fish.

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