La perfecta

Eddie Palmieri

album cover

The Daredevil of Latin Piano Tears Up the Dance Floor

When Eddie Palmieri made La perfecta, his first solo record, in 1962, he'd spent years paying dues in New York's finest mambo big bands, serving the needs of discerning dancers. The pianist and composer borrowed ideas from those bands, added dashes of jazz irreverence, and convinced an unflappable young singer (Ismael Quintana) and a bunch of precision-minded instrumentalists to join what he envisioned as a highenergy combo. The group quickly evolved into a perfectly proportioned rhythmic juggernaut; its aptly titled debut endures as one of the most exciting in the history of Latin music.

It's also one of the most influential. Palmieri's terse arrangements feature trombones as often as trumpets, frequently with a flute on top. That alignment, which makes the seven-piece horn section seem as robust as a big band, was borrowed by countless salsa stars of the late '60s and '70s, among them Willie Colón (see p. 93) and Héctor Lavoe (see p. 439).

As often as it's been copied, there's lots about La perfecta that remains untouchable. The ensemble executes everything with unsurpassed unity, and when one musician steps out for a solo—in addition to electrifying turns from Palmieri, this album contains swaggering hall-of-fame ad-libs by trombonist Barry Rogers—the others provide assured, steadying support. No tune here lasts more than three minutes, and as a result, the solos are usually abbreviated. That doesn't mean they're not potent: Cue up "Conmigo" or "Ritmo caliente" to hear Palmieri, the jazz daredevil, dispensing jolting, syncopated chords as though he's trying to give dancers conniptions. On later records, Palmieri would elaborate at much greater length; the solos here offer thrills and spills in short, super-concentrated bursts.

Genre: World, Latin
Released: 1962, Alegre (Reissued 2007, Fania)
Key Tracks: "Conmigo," "Mi pollo," "Tema la perfecta," "Ritmo caliente"
Catalog Choice: The Son of Latin Music; Harlem River Drive
Next Stop: Sonora Ponceña: Determination
After That: Conjunto Libre: Ritmo, sonido, y estilo
Book Pages: 573–574

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