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Eddie Palmieri: Lucumi, Macumba, Voodoo

C. Andrew Hovan By

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The meat of the album is brimming with Palmieri at his best and the coming together of musicians from several Latin American worlds is something that might never be duplicated again.
With the dog days of summer upon us, it seemed like a good idea to go just a bit left of center for this month’s feature. Keeping the temperatures in the caliente zone (that means keeping things hot, if you’re a gringo), we visit an obscure gem from Latin music sensation Eddie Palmieri. On the scene now for some four decades, with seven Grammy awards to his name, and a slew of albums to his credit (including the recent Concord Picante release Ritmo Caliente ), the Harlem born pianist and composer personifies the electricity we associate with salsa music. He also tends to dip his feet into jazz waters, working at one time with Cal Tjader in the ‘60s and for the past decade or so with current jazz masters Conrad Herwig and Brian Lynch.

Back in 1978 when Lucumi, Macumba, Voodoo was recorded, Latin music was probably the last thing on the minds of youngsters who found themselves full force into the disco craze. Those with a few more years under their belts had become disenchanted with jazz and its left turn towards more commercial pastures and so there wasn’t much of an audience for the record upon initial release. Which probably explains why it’s hard to track down today. The title refers to the various religious arms of several different Latin American countries that wed music with rites and ceremonies and there is an authentic flair that permeates much of the music.

Again, one must remember this was the disco era, so pieces like “Spirit of Love” and “Highest Good” contain more than a passing reference to that particular flavor, with dance floor rhythms and vocal choirs. But the meat of the album is what endears it to many Palmieri collectors, yours truly included. “Columbia Te Canto” opens with a Danzon rhythm and the sweet sounds of the charanga. Before long we’re in for a simmering piano duo between Eddie and his late brother Charlie that builds to a fever pitch. The other lengthy piece is “Mi Congo Te Llama” and it too tells a story with shifting tempos and excellent solo work from Steve Khan, Francisco Aguabella, and trumpet king ‘Chocolate’ Armenteros.

Co-produced with Eddie by pop producer and drummer Bobby Colomby, Lucumi, Macumba, Voodoo is in some ways very much a record of its time and no doubt Colomby might have been looking for a few disco fans to buy into its more commercial numbers (remember that Saturday Night Fever had a scene or two with Latin music as the backdrop). Still, the meat of the album is brimming with Palmieri at his best and the coming together of musicians from several Latin American worlds is something that might never be duplicated again.

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