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Charlie Sepúlveda & The Turnaround: Mr. EP – A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri



Charlie Sepúlveda

Much of the music that Charlie Sepúlveda has played over the course of his fascinating career as a professional musician has been such that it might as well have carried the statutory warning: “Caution! Can cause sudden outbursts of joy”. That cautionary notice has now to be drastically revised with this new venture – Mr. EP – A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri. All of the happiness and energy is there, of course, but to that we must now add a heightened sense of creativity, an awareness of the soul and spontaneous healing. It couldn’t have happened any other way. The manner of the music’s unfolding is pure ‘spirit’ as the songs flow from one gorgeously lifelike note to another.

None of this would have happened without the tonal purity and exquisite delirium of Mr Sepúlveda’s trumpet artistry. His seamless, ‘singing’ legato lines throughout this programme amount to a masterclass in control, deep listening and sonorous divination. Let’s not forget also the special, reverential treatment that this music gets at the hands of Charlie Sepúlveda and his ensemble. The reason, quite simply, is its dedicatee: The great Eddie Palmieri, without whom, it might be said that not only Latin-Jazz, but Jazz itself would not be what it is today.

Certainly if you ask Charlie Sepúlveda you will hear an echo of that belief. Playing in one of Mr Palmieri’s bands was like going to school, and if you made the grade then you graduated to the University of Mr Palmieri. It’s been that way for many extraordinary musicians over the years. While not many folks were paying attention Charlie Sepúlveda graduated from Mr Palmieri’s University years ago. Sure, the trumpet genius had cut his teeth with Hilton Ruiz, but Eddie Palmieri polished the diamond in the rough. And what more honorable way of saying “Thank You” to his maestro could there be than these evocative expressions of love?

The music of Mr. EP – A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri is a procession of exhilarating treats from start to finish. Pride of place goes to “Variations on a Theme – 1 and 2”, which bookend the album and “Charlie’s Whole Tone Blues”, which immediately follows the first variation. Of the first variation and “Charlie’s Whole Tone Blues” it may be said that these opening two charts set the poetic tone for the rest of the album fanning, as they do, the dancing flames of the music via the voicing and smoky syntax of Eddie Palmieri’s piano. What better way to open the set, or to continue on for that matter?

How about by turning things over to one of Charlie Sepúlveda’s classic composition, “Bomba Pa Carmen”, a piece he first premiered in 2008. Here, however, it is both pianist Eduardo Zayas and Mr Sepúlveda who brilliantly address the music’s intense rhythmic interplay and extended lyric passages. If anything, Mr Sepúlveda appears to reach higher expressive heights on this mercurial piece as he gushes forth with brilliant ideas in all directions. The wonder of his playing here is how engagingly, articulately, flowingly and objectively he pours himself into the music.

The kinetic energy just seems to flow as if from the palate-cleanser to the main course as the recording reaches its midpoint – ‘Mr. EP’ to be precise. And here we have the makings of a classic tribute to Palmieri. The music here characterizes its honoree to perfection – and this is a master-stroke for Charlie Sepúlveda – as the writing reflects Palmieri’s mellifluous aesthetics and wide-ranging stylistic tastes with an emphasis on beautiful colours and melodic invention. Noberto Ortiz plays a sizzling series of choruses here. And just for good measure, Mr Sepúlveda has bassist Gabriel Rodriguez play a short but vivacious little solo to break up the choruses.

It seems appropriate thereafter to wind down the swing a few notches if only to make room for a sensuous, dusky version of Consuelo Velazquez’s immortal “Besame Mucho”. The interpretation here is a tad slower than what one is accustomed to hearing, but this makes perfect sense as the listener will be gently coerced into dwelling on the emotional lyrics, drinking in their profound beauty, seduced as it were by the ineffable Yarimar Denisse, whose unforgettable performance is a gripping experience of touching and dramatic intensity.

“Peer Magic” bursts out of the gates with spontaneous energy as if Charlie Sepúlveda has, with a single secret gesture, triggered the unleashing of the creative juices of his ensemble as one. The group’s polished energy and evident joie de vivre make for a thoroughly gratifying listen not the least because of the crisp, infectious perkiness of Mr Sepúlveda’s solo that bobs and weaves its way into the melody, prompting an equally roistering solo from the saxophone and the piano, which in turn, eggs on bassist, Mr Rodriguez into a smart, behind-the-beat figure that in turn cues the rest of the band as pianist Bienvenido Dinzey brings the piece home vamping behind Gadwin Vargas’ and Raul Maldonado’s rollicking congas and drums respectively.

The most pleasant surprise comes on “Si Tu Sabes”, an impish and atmospheric jazzy hiphop featuring the rap lyrics of SieteNueve, wafting over and under the bluesy, muted trumpet. Charlie Sepúlveda slips and slithers through the lively outer movements of this piece with a great sense of character. Together rap artists and bandleader turn this slinky tune into a black-tie affair. As if by a master stroke, this rap song leads into ‘Mr. Jazz’, another nervy, astoundingly inventive piece that pays further tribute to Eddie Palmieri. The scorching solo by Charlie Sepúlveda is superbly controlled, leaving much room for the glamorous rhythmic invention of the piece to shine through.

Fittingly, the album ends with the return of Eddie Palmieri playing the second part of the “Variation on a Theme” in the inimitable, percussive style that pits haunting dissonant figures with gorgeous, lustrous utterances as only the great pianist can play. In offering the final comments to his mentor, Charlie Sepúlveda has enabled the music to burn itself into the memory as if with the bluest part of its flame as we the listeners are left marveling at the last, dying notes of the unaccompanied piano utterly and completely mesmerised by the beauty of the music of Mr. EP – A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri that we have just experienced.

Charlie Sepúlveda & The Turnaround: Mr. EP – A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri is an 18th Latin Grammy Awards Nominee Best Latin Jazz Album.

Track list – 1. Variations on a Theme 1; 2. Charlie’s Whole Tone Blues; 3. Bomba Pa’ Carmen; 4. Mr. EP; 5. Bésame Mucho; 6. Peer Magic; 7. Si tú Sabes; 8. Mr. Jazz; 9. Variations on a Theme 2

Personnel – Charlie Sepúlveda: trumpet & leader, Norberto Ortiz: tenor saxophone, Bienvenido Dinzey: piano, Gabriel Rodriguez: bass, Raul Maldonado: drums, Gadwin Vargas: congas, with special guest Eddie Palmieri: piano,  Eduardo Zayas: Piano, Felipe Fournier: Vibes; SieteNueve: Vocals; Yarimar Denisse: Vocals

Released – 2017
Label – HighNote Records
Runtime – 46:00

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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