Various: Puerto Rico Heineken Jazzfest

Javier AQ Ortiz By

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Eddie Palmieri , was the 1998 honoree of the Heineken Jazzfest (HJ). Scholarship was somewhat strained in this dedication as Palmieri’s work in jazz settings lags behind in import compared with other figures. Although it is obvious that his musical vocabulary is informed by jazz and his influence in Latin Jazz circles is a matter of multi-generational public record, it is a stretch to overstate Palmieri’s importance for jazz.

The band Palmieri fronted for this presentation was unrehearsed and it shows on “Don’t Stop the Train.” Given Palmieri’s notorious fastidiousness, this performance is truly surprising as one is afforded the scarce opportunity to listen to a mediocre performance under his charge. This octet is the most powerful I have ever experienced live, although here they are not tight enough, nor are they synchronized to each other’s playing according to their capabilities, neither are the solos par with their usual fare. This is not the best performance of Palmieri, although the tune can definitely be enjoyed, notwithstanding my critical assiduousness.

Even if the percussion had been set a higher level in the mix, the Néstor Torres’ interpretation of “Make ‘U’ Dance” would not have needed help in the dancing exhortation. Torres will not be done justice with some jazz markets until he releases a live album. His recordings are marketed for a segment of the market with smoother musical tastes and such a strategy works well for the busy flute of Torres. When his current band, of which most member are in evidence here, do their bidding on gigs, smooth would not be the best way to describe what ensues. The overall feeling is celebratory, although some uplifting colors are added before getting down again.

Maynard Ferguson calls Arturo Sandoval the greatest trumpet player in the world. Although Sandoval is only credited in the liner notes as being accompanied by his touring band at the time, in “Mam-Bop” there is an unidentified Big Band supporting his stratospheric playing. It was most likely the HJ band that did such and outstanding effort.

“Angela,” the theme from Taxi, is what an enhanced version of the Bob James Trio, with Earl Klugh and Néstor Torres, interpret. Torres’ flute was a provocation to the other fellows until Klugh reigned ease and melody through the midpoint, giving the baton to James’ beauty in keyboards, jazzing the piano latter.

In “L. A.,” Frankie Suárez & Friends adorn a guaguancó rhythmic foundation with showers of contemporary sounding jazz inflected with tropical underpinnings that provide brightly shinning colors and waves. The closing sax solo is worthy of note.

Michael Mossman & the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazzfest Big Band engage in a Big Band jamming mambo well dressed in jazz garb. Mossman’s forte gears towards jazz, mainly as a performer, although he is no stranger to the most traditional jazzified Hispanic musical genres. There are a couple of pithy questionable spots in the percussion solos, but that’s part of the beauty of such live recordings.

“Rumba Abierta,” with Mariano Morales & Picante, is not so much a Latin Jazz dessert as it is an instrumental jam session, or descarga, parfait. Morales and his groups have appeared before at the HJ, having been documented before mostly on violin. Here, he shows up in piano. José Rodríguez’s trumpet heaves and weaves through every musical punch thrown its way, whether coming from Cuba, Puerto Rico or the U.S.

Earl Klugh passed a “Midnight in San Juan” with an inspired, contemporary jazz performance. Klugh’s chops are energized by the Tropics and Lenny Price’s sax was having too much fun to quit.

With the grandiloquent title of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” Billy Taylor’s composition is not represented well by such a denomination. If this upbeat and delectable performance, with its enduring march of taste, energy and drive, is not freedom itself, then I don’t know what it is!

Trombonist Conrad Herwig’s group closes the listening audition of the ’98 HJ. Phil Vieux’s baritone sax opens the soloing up with the opening challenges, at a superior level, only to hear Herwig and Brian Lynch trading notes in order to reach even higher levels. Perhaps Palmieri’s shadows too much here, but the differences are equally obvious and this “Blue Train” is hardly blue at all.

Notes: All performances were apparently included in this recording. Dennis Mario’s first logo for the HJ was done this year. The cover art can be seen at the Merchandise section of the HJ website. This edition of the HJ was held at the Parque Sixto Escobar.


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