Chicago’s World Music Festival came back in a big way with a spectacular opening night concert featuring Eddie Palmieri and his Salsa Orchestra, an 11 piece juggernaut that pulled out all the stops to drive a crowd of nearly 7000 people absolutely nuts with joy. Gallery 1 – Photos by Scott Pollard.
If salsa music has an inventor, it’s probably Palmieri. There’s no overstating the importance of his innovations over the past half century, starting with his introduction of dual trombones in the place of typical charanga violins in the early 60s. The punchy, horn driven sound was a perfect match for urbanized Latinos living in New York, something they could call their own, yet harkening back to island roots. Palmieri went on to be a serious piano virtuoso as well, absorbing jazz technique and theory from the likes of Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner. Gallery 2 – Photos by www.elíascarmona.com
If his current orchestra is not the pinnacle of six decades of achievement, it’s damn close. In Thursday night’s performance, jazz-heads could only shake their heads in wonder and admiration as both the group arrangements and soloists showed a deeply sophisticated understanding of harmony and rhythm. Meanwhile, thousands of others simply danced with unbridled joy at the irresistible Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Palmieri went all the way back to 1940s Cuba for Arsenio Rodríguez’ iconic Dame un Cachito Pa’Huele, and several other classics from Puerto Rico and Cuba found their way into the program, all of which were energized by the heat and skill that the ensemble was throwing down all evening.
Speaking of ‘all evening’, Palmieri’s set was preceded by that of a band that almost single-handedly revived the plena tradition in Puerto Rican popular music. Twenty years on, Plena Libre is still faithfully updating this folkloric tradition for contemporary audiences, augmenting the panderos and guiro with driving horns and sparkling keyboards. While not precisely innovators, Plena Libre remains important in keeping the tradition alive, and their opening set on Thursday was the perfect warm up on a cool fall evening, getting people up and dancing in no time.
September 12, 2013
by Don Macica
Photos by Scott Pollard and Elías Carmona
Don Macica is a marketing consultant to the performing arts community and a contributing writer to several online publications including Chicagomusic.org and Arteyvidachicago.com. When not traveling, he lives a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.