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Full Circle [Digipak] *
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  • Like pianist Thelonious Monk, his primary jazz influence, Eddie Palmieri has been playing jazz since the 1960s, and has revisited his favorite compositions numerous times. Age 81 in 2018, Palmieri delivers a companion to 2017's brilliant Sabidura, a set that provided an evolutionary overview of some of his best Afro Caribbean jazz tunes. It was deservedly acclaimed as one of the finest records in his career. Full Circle offers eight of Palmieri's salsa compositions as the jump-off point of exploration. Cut in three days, Palmieri brought his all-star tentet (that includes bassist Luques Curtis, trombonist Conrad Herwig, and lead vocalist Hermn Olivera) to anchor all the cuts, and added an expanded cast on an extended big-band version of "Vamonos Pa'l Monte," whose two versions bookend the set.
  • Palmieri kept basic harmonies and rhythmic architectures, but expanded musical boundaries with extended solos and group interplay. El Maestro is a generous bandleader. Palmieri's trademark restlessness doesn't explore for its own sake, but rather to imbue these compositions with deeper meanings and resonant timbres and textures. "Muneca" first appeared on 1962's La Perfecta. This version is utterly transformed into a hot salsa jam (from charanga) with solos from everyone. Palmieri's blazing solo bursts with dissonant, dark chords, accompanied by fiery montunos and sharply inserted left-hand rhythmic variations. They underscore the congas and timbales as the horns punctuate and dance around them. This version of "Azcar" is the fifth since its debut appearance on 1965's Azucar Pa'Ti -- in an even longer take than the eight-minute one here. Palmieri's solo builds laterally along several lines at once, first on the chord vamp, then on the bassline, then in fiery interaction with Nelson Gonzalez's tres. The aforementioned big-band version of "Vmonos Pa'l Monte," which first appeared on an album of the same name in 1971, was arranged by Ray Santos. Its roots are in burning '70s-styled Nuyorican hard salsa but it's augmented here by five trombones, five saxophones, and three trumpets (including Brian Lynch's). Over seven minutes, its furious pace is driven by Curtis' rumbling bassline. In the middle section, Palmieri wanders off into modern jazz improvisation, using minor-chord voicings from the lower-middle register atop the frenetic percussion section. "Pa'La Ocha Tamb" adds guest horn players (most notably baritone saxist Ronnie Cuber). But here, the rhythms and call-and-response vocal style are upfront, with Palmieri's piano pushing them on in a mean post-bop groove juxtaposed with vintage Cuban son. The recording's release coincides with the appearance of the interactive Palmieri Salsa Jams App, the world's first interactive salsa music app. It gives musicians the ability to completely control their listening, practicing, and learning experience by being able to customize the player -- it can mute, solo, pan, and fade and loop any instrument with tempo control. It also provides detailed sheet music. Full Circle stands alongside Sabidura. Palmieri's salsa aesthetic is brilliantly presented by his hyper-modern reinventions on classic themes. El Maestro's late career surge is nothing less than awe-inspiring. ~ Thom Jurek
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