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Palmieri, Lynch, Herwig Blow Roof Off Scullers

Flurry of Latin and Mainstream Jazz Take Shape in Palmieri Septet’s Boston Showdown

By Jorge Padilla

Please help me welcome to the stage the Eddie Palmieri Septet.” Thirty minutes behind schedule, a visibly exuberant Eddie Palmieri and his six sidemen took over Scullers Jazz Club on Saturday, August 18, 2001. With the five-time Grammy award winning pianist leading the septet, the concert was nothing short of unforgettable.

His sidemen, including renowned trombonist Conrad Herwig, bassist Joe Santiago, and jazz trumpeter Brian Lynch, once voted among the Top Five Jazz Trumpet Players by readers of Downbeat Magazine for several years running, complemented the sincerity and intensity characteristic of Palmieri's piano. As was expected, the Eddie Palmieri Septet torched the club with its Latin-jazz flavor. Their program included standard Latin tunes such as “La Libertad,” “Guajira,” and “Azucar.” Quite surprisingly, the Septet’s program also showcased many elements of mainstream jazz.

The concert began with a beautiful, ballad-like piano vamp. Palmieri’s poetic lyricism and sophisticated approach to the piano, comparable to the Bill Evans’ style of jazz, captivated the club and held it in a deep trance. Almost immediately, Palmieri counted the band off for a real takeoff. This short four and a half minute piece ripped through Scullers from downbeat to cutoff. The crowd was roaring and cheering, to which Palmieri replied in his Latin American accent, “We thought we’d open up the night real tranquil ... Now you’re really gonna have it!” The band leader’s charisma made the crowd cheer and holler even louder.

For their second tune, or rather medley of tunes, the Septet played a Palmieri composition written for his grandson. Again, Palmieri opened up the tune with crystal-clear sheets of sound. What was funny about this tune, however, is that it had a Latin-ballad feel to it, but the band members were improvising a melody on stage -- a beautiful freedom unique to jazz music. The empathy about the group was incredible.

After the gorgeous, improvised melody, trumpeter Lynch was the first to take a solo. He displayed a virtuoso handling of the trumpet. Covering the entire range of the horn, including the stratosphere of notes, Lynch expressed himself technically and melodically through jazz improvisation. Palmieri followed after Lynch with yet another piano cadenza.

This time, however, Palmieri spoke in the language of the blues, introducing a shuffle-feel to the tune. Upon the conclusion of the awesome Palmieri vamp, Lynch took over, this time with an impressive display of the flugelhorn. The tune got even better when Lynch handed off the solo to trombonist Herwig, another virtuoso member of the band. He moved through the horn with such dexterity that his trombone slide sounded like three valves. Herwig was amazing with his smooth, flowing approach to improvisation. At this point, the only negative aspect about the concert were a rude few crammed into the club who were talking away during the performance as if it were background music.

Herwig changed the lively mood and swinging feel about the second tune, which was about thirty minutes long, to a slightly “swung” ballad feel. Here, Herwig demonstrated his ability to communicate through the soft, intricate language of the ballad. Herwig especially stood out in this set. Each melody he improvised and each phrase he concluded seamlessly led to the next. One could even get the impression that the solo was prewritten.

Following Herwig’s solo, still in the second tune, Lynch took yet another solo. It seemed as if he was holding all of his energy for this moment, because he blew the roof off the place and knocked everyone off their chairs. His musically diverse ideas landed him onto a 1930s swing feel late into his solo, changing the mood of the tune yet again. The crowd loved it when he quoted Duke Ellington’s “Never No Lament (Don’t Get Around Much Anymore)” in the middle of his solo. The tune ended just as energetic as the first in a very jazzy blues feel.

The crowd was going crazy as Eddie Palmieri was introducing his final tune, the longest of the night. Admitting he was inspired by the great jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, Palmieri embarked upon this composition. He also revealed that the chord progressions of this tune are the same as those to Herbie Hancock’s famous “Maiden Voyage.” Palmieri took a very Monk-like, “Mysterioso” approach to the tune. This time the vamp was more dissonant than the rest and more structured around block chords. Palmieri’s expression of each new musical idea was almost inhuman.

Meanwhile, his sidemen were busy developing another melody for the tune. After another explosive melody, Conrad Herwig took the first few choruses. This time he let it rip. He was the one to blow the roof off the place -- and he was the first to solo. The aura about the club was so intense that when Lynch took over on the trumpet, people started dancing (they weren’t quite sober). Though I’m not sure how proper this was in a classy, hip, candle-lit, and wine-serving club, things were raging. By the end, Sculler’s was set on a fire fanned by the intensity of the septet and the excitement of an engaged audience.