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Essential Albums

Cal Tjader, Eddie Palmieri: El Sonido Nuevo / The New Soul Sound

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Cal Tjader and Eddie Palmieri

“The finest work to date is, without question, El Sonido Nuevo. Vocal music is jettisoned, thus revealing, once and for all, the depth of Palmieri’s instrumental resources. Every single track of this LP is epochal. The clatter set up by (Barry) Rogers in “Los Jíbaros,” for example, is extremely artistic and “Ritmo Uni” is the most finished document of the trombone dimension in Sonido Nuevo that has yet been heard. Palmieri fulfills the promise of his “Azucar” (Sugar For You) experiment in a variety of tracks, inventing new ostinatos and melodic fragments and counter ostinatos and single-note accents, becoming a virtual pianistic kaleidoscope.” Robert Farris Thompson

If awards were given for the most misleading cover-art, Cal Tjader and Eddie Palmieri’s El Sonido Nuevo would rank high on the list. If the unsuspecting buyer didn’t know better, they might believe the men on the cover are college professors taking a break between classes (nothing could be further from the truth). In the end, we will never know why Verve Records made such an odd choice, but there is no question that over fifty years after its creation, El Sonido Nuevo sounds as fresh today as it did then. Much like the cover of the album, the back-story of El Sonido Nuevo contains misconceptions, unknown facts, and even a revelation.

In 1965, Cal Tjader visited New York. While there, he saw Eddie Palmieri and Conjunto La Perfecta perform at The Cheetah. Impressed with the group’s musicianship, swing, and high energy, he introduced himself and proposed the idea of joining forces. “At first, I thought he wanted to record with me,” said Palmieri, “but Cal made it clear he wanted to record with my band and me.”

The invitation led to an exchange of an artist’s agreement between Morris Levy of Tico Records (Palmieri’s record label, which later became Roulette Records) and Creed Taylor of MGM Verve Records (Tjader’s record label). It resulted in two classic recordings – El Sonido Nuevo and Bamboleate) required listening for anyone who is even remotely interested in the roots of Latin music and Latin jazz.

The recording sessions took place at Rudy Van Gelders studio in Englewood, New Jersey, on May 24, 25 and 26, 1966. The producers were Creed Taylor and Claus Ogerman, who shared the arrangements with Palmieri.

The sound was an eclectic mix of Afro-Cuban rhythms, Latin jazz, blaring trombones, lush vibraphone, syncopated beats, and sizzling bass lines.

When the album was released (1966) aficionados embraced it but Cal and Eddie’s fans didn’t know what to make of it. It was not the Cal and Eddie of old and record sales were poor.

Publicized as “The New Sound,” El Sonido’s eclectic repertoire alternated between “corny” and “hip.” Tunes such as “Picadillo,” “Guajira En Azul,” “El Sonido Nuevo,” “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” and “Unidos,” lived up to the hype. Conversely, the theme from the movie, “Modesty,” (set to a mambo beat) left the listener’s scratching their heads.

Several misconceptions surround El Sonido Nuevo that stem from Creed Taylor’s original liner notes. According to Taylor, “Cal and Palmieri hit it off at once. They were in the same groove, and the listener can feel the flow and rapport between them on every track of the album.” In 2007, Eddie Palmieri dropped a bombshell when he revealed that during the making of El Sonido Nuevo (and Bamboleate), he and Cal were not in the recording studio at the same time. “The amazing thing of the recording was that Cal never recorded with us,” said Palmieri during an episode of Caliente Latin Jazz on WKUVO, 89.3 FM. “We laid down the tracks and later, Cal and I would speak by phone, and I would tell him, ‘this goes there,’ and ‘that goes there,’ and he came in at night and filled in (overdubbed) his parts. Cal was the most natural musician I have ever seen in my life! The way he was able to pull that off.”

Why it took Eddie Palmieri fifty years to reveal the fact is anybody’s guess. Still, for avid listeners (like me) who grew up listening to Cal and Eddie, it changed my perception of the album and its mystique.

In 1993, Polygram Records reissued the original LP in CD format and included six bonus tracks from previously released Cal Tjader sessions. Why Polygram chose to tinker with the flow of the original recording is anybody’s guess. Still, it raises questions such as, where are the original master tapes? Do they exist? One of the most common criticisms surrounding El Sonido Nuevo is the shortness of the tracks. Case in point, the tune On a Clear Day You Can See Forever clocks in at a mere one minute and fifty-nine seconds. If the master tapes exist, I, for one, would like to hear the tracks and the outtakes in their entirety with new, updated liner notes in the form of a box-set.

Did Cal Tjader and Eddie Palmieri create a “New Sound?” According to scholar Doctor Robert Farris Thompson, “El Sonido Nuevo is a new form of Latin New York music, founded on fresh drumming, an astringent bass, a piano mixing fixity of form with counterpoint, and a trombone extracting a maximum of emotion with a minimum of notes.” This much we know. Cal, Eddie, and La Perfecta found common ground and brought out the best in one another. Also, the sessions clearly demonstrated Conjunto La Perfecta was more than just a “dance band.”

The trombonist Barry Rogers deserves special mention for introducing Eddie Palmieri to John Coltrane (during the sessions), whose influence played a role in the making of El Sonido Nuevo. One musician compared aspects of El Sonido Nuevo to Coltrane’s Africa Brass.

One year later Cal and Eddie’s band of “roaring elephants” reunited to record the highly acclaimed follow-up to El Sonido Nuevo titled Bamboleate. But, that’s a story for another day!

Fifty-four years after its release, El Sonido Nuevo is a classic. Also, it’s part of the soundtrack of my life and holds a special place on my “eternal” playlist.

Track list – Los Jibaros, Guajira En Azul, Ritmo Uni, Picadillo, Modesty, Unidos, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, El Sonido Nuevo.

Personnel – Cal Tjader: vibraphone; Eddie Palmieri: piano; George Castro: flute and percussion; Tommy López and Manny Oquendo, Ismael Quintana: drums, percussion; Barry Rogers, Julian Priester, Mark Weinstein: trombones, Bobby Rodríguez: bass.

Released – 1966
Label – Verve Records
Runtime – 53:36

Sources
Amazon.com – General Information and Customer Reviews
Ballon, John (www.musthear.com) – Review
Birnbaum, Larry – El Sonido Nuevo/The New Soul Sound Liner Notes (1993)
Caliente Latin Jazz with Eddie Palmieri (KUVO.ORG). El Sonido Nuevo Revisited (Radio Broadcast, 2007)
Child, John – www.descarga.com – El Sonido Nuevo/The New Soul Sound Review
Flores, Juan – Salsa Rising! New York Latin Music of the Sixties Generation (Oxford University Press, 2016)
Thompson, Robert Farris – Aesthetic of the Cool. Article: New Voice from the Barrios
Taylor, Creed – Original liner notes (1963)

A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject.

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Essential Albums

Azymuth: Telecommunications

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This album, Telecommunications, is one of the most iconic recordings by Azymuth, the ineffably funky Brasilian trio. When it was released – on the Milestone label in 1982 – it became a monumental hit, propelling the group, it went Gold and exploded into the Top 10 in the British Charts, soaring heavenward in popularity all over Europe too.

It’s not hard to understand the extraordinary popularity of Azymuth. First and foremost has to be the unmatched funkiness of all the musicians who made up the original trio: keyboards superstar, vocalist and percussionist José Roberto Bertrami, who sadly passed away on July 8th 1012, Ivan Mamão Conti, who just has to be considered one of the most funky drummers since Zigaboo Modeliste, [who practically invented funk drumming as one of the illustrious members of the iconic New Orleans group The Meters], and bassist Alex Malherios whose rumble and roar made for the glue [together with Mamão] that solidified the rhythmic edifice of the trio, while the soloist [particularly, Bertrami] launched himself on his mighty solo flights.

Azymuth: Telecommunications
Azymuth: Telecommunications

It may have been the syncopation of choro that carried over into Brasili’s most iconic urban music and dance forms – samba, a versatile rhythm that can assume many forms. Heated up, with a shouted call-and-response verse backed by literally thousands of samba-school drums on parade, it becomes samba de enredo [the mass Carnival music that is famous the world over]. But what happens when you take the vocals out of the musical equation, funk up the rhythm, add a rumbling electric bass guitar and jazz up the rippling Brasilian percussion?

That’s when you get the funkiest music that became the clarion call of Brasilian funk music ensembles, of which Azymuth was probably the most famous, plying its stock-in-trade at all the major jazz festivals – from the Americas to Europe – Monterey to Montreux and way beyond.  The music on this seminal album, Telecommunications is characteristic of Azymuth at its very best. The repertoire came at a time when this heavyweight trio had reached the apogee of the musical style that continues to be a niche. A style that it had carved out for itself, with an eclectic, jazzy mix of Brasilian rhythms upon which were overlaid dallying soli by Mr Bertrami and Mamão, together with the rumbling bass of Mr Malherios.

Azymuth Trio
Azymuth Trio

Telecommunications’ opener “Estreito de Taruma” features a filing solo by the great Brasilian guitarist Helio Delmirio. The warm sonority, clean technique and penchant for spare ornamentation in his playing made him a guitarist like none other to come out of the raging flood of guitarists that cascaded out of the ocean of Brasilian music. The music that Mr Delmirio sculpted, from the steel strings at his fingertips, made the musical notes fly off the paper. His lines floated askance, oblique to the not so predictable keyboard playing by Mr Bertrami.

Throughout the two sides of this vinyl –superbly remastered by George Horn, by the way– we find music that is a testament to the musicians’ [and composers’] boundless invention. This music is replete with a wide expressive range and technical challenges, not to mention the fact that once all of the musicians have had their say, a musical structure is constructed that defies logic, convention and other well-worn stylistic hooks. So monumental is the music’s cachet. Mr Bertrami’s “Last Summer in Rio” and the wistful finale – “The House I Lived In” [together with its “Prelude” – as a finale, no less] is typical of the brooding, tumbling groove that Azymuth created for itself – a sound so unique among [any] other musicians from the 1970’s onward, is yet to be imitated, copied or otherwise reproduced by Brasilian artists other than Azymuth.

YouTube Playlist

Tracks – Side A – 1: Estreito de Taruma; 2: What Price Samba [Quanta Vale um Samba]; 3: Country Road [Chão de Terra]; 4: May I Have This Dance? [Concede me Esto Dança?]. Side B – 1: Nothing Will Be As It Was [Nada Sera Como Antes]; 2: Last Summer in Rio; 3: The House I Lived In [A Casa em Que Vivi]; Prelude

Musicians – José Roberto Bertrami: organ [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1-3], keyboards [Side A 2, 4; Side B 1, 2], vocoder [Side A 3, 4], vocal [Side A 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1]; Alex Malherios: electric bass [Side A 1, 4; Side B 2], fretless bass [Side A 2, 3; Side B 2]; bass guitar [Side A 4], and acoustic guitar [Side A 3]; Ivan Mamão Conti: drums [Side A 1, 2, 4; Side B 1, 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 3]; Special Guests – Helio Delmirio:  electric guitar [Aide A 1; Side B 2]; Aleuda: percussion [Side A 3, 4; Side B 1]; Dotô: repique [Side A 2]; Cidinho: percussion [Side B 2]

Released – 1982
Remastered and Released (vinyl) – 2022
Label – Milestone [1982]
Jazz Dispensary – [2022]
Runtime – Side A 19:21 Side B 21:43  

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