March 30, 2009

And All That Jazz

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People grabbed partners to dance, bump and grind in the aisles. Those who were too shy to get up and show off their moves had their eyes glued to the stage, watching as if in a trance. Remind you of anything? T-Pain? Ludacris? Actually, the grinding that took place this Saturday at Bailey Hall was not the result of intoxicated collegians and the mesmerized faces were not ones of horror but of amazement. In fact, I have yet to attend a Cornell event filled with a more passionate, eager or enthusiastic audience than the one that came together on Saturday to witness a performance by Eddie Palmieri’s Latin Jazz Band. Palmieri, a 9-time Grammy winner and salsa and Latin jazz bandleader for over 50 years, may not be a familiar name to the average college student, but to those familiar with the Latin jazz genre, he is a god.
But the crowd (yes, Bailey, home to about 1,300 Psychology 101 students in the fall, was actually crowded) was not only graced with Palmeri’s presence, but also the presence of his band. Members include Richie Viruet on trumpet, Conrad Herwig on trombone, Luques Curtis on bass and Jose Claussell, Vincente Rivero and Orlando Vega on percussion. There are really no words to describe the sheer talent, not to mention pure brilliance, of these men. Each impressive on his own, as a group, along with Palmeri, they were the epitome of absolute musical genius.
[img_assist|nid=36355|title=Tickling the ivory|desc=Legendary jazz pianist Eddie Palmieri, winner of 9 Grammys, played a rousing show with his Latin Jazz Band on Saturday night in Bailey Hall.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Palmieri kicked off the show onstage by himself with a mesmerizing composition, one that seemed part jazz and part ballad. His band then came out to join him, and he immediately transitioned from looking mostly at his fingers while playing to interacting with the band members. While people did not start dancing in the aisles until the end of the concert, the audience was grooving to the beats from the very beginning. Palmieri noted, “ [I] saw you dancing in your chairs … never seen chair dancers like you ever.” At one point he got the entire audience to clap a traditional Cuban “son clave” beat.
Palmieri, who was born in 1936 in Spanish Harlem, has stunned audiences since the ’50s. He first formed his own band, La Perfecta, in 1961, which showcased trombones as a replacement for trumpets, and gained the name “the band with the crazy roaring elephants” as a result. It is amazing that at a concert almost 50 years later this unique feature of Palmieri’s orchestration was still relevant — Herwig’s trombone solo breaks were the highlight of the show. Herwig played with so much gusto, often with his face as red as a tomato, that you could tell every audience member was holding his breath. His fingers rarely ventured off the brass for more than a millisecond and his legs danced to the beat. Herwig is one of those musicians who does not play his instrument — he feels his instrument, using his entire body to make the music. The trombone seems to be simply an extension of his body.
Equally impressive was Viruet on the trumpet. The two brass players continuously worked alongside each other, sometimes soloing together and other times stepping aside to let the other take the stage. Unlike Herwig, Viruet played in a manner that forced the audience to concentrate not at all on his body but solely on the trumpet, which seemed to have a mind of its own. The juxtaposition of the two musicians next to each other at the front of the stage would have been enough to keep the audience entertained, but they were backed up by Curtis on the bass, who also had several enthralling solos, most notably in the band’s first piece. As for the three drummers, for lack of more technical knowledge about drumming, I’ve never seen drummers drum so fast. Vega had a particularly gripping solo.
If you have been in Bailey before, you know that it’s not exactly a cozy venue. However, even from the balcony, the presence of Palmieri and his band were remarkable, making you feel like you were right on stage with them. Palmieri’s Latin Jazz Band is a gem, a stunning representation of American music styles merging with those from around the world.