There is something very special about sharing a moment in time and space with a legend, an artist –a consummate musician- who has transcended the natural state of being a mere mortal to become a superhero in the eyes of many people. A man whose accomplishments put him on higher ground, and whose legacy touches and influences other artists, musicians, dancers… and listeners whose spirits get lifted with joy and pleasure through his artistry.
That man is NEA Jazz Master, multiple Grammy Award-winning pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader Eddie Palmieri.
On Saturday, May 9, 2015, an audience that packed Koerner Hall experienced the first concert ever of Maestro Eddie Palmieri in Toronto. His aural presence filled the magnificent wooden hall. His role as entertainer went hand in hand with his role as educator, providing details and historical accounts about the music, setting up the stage for the themes being interpreted.
As part of the Royal Conservatory Special Music of the Americas, TD Jazz: A Salute to the Big Bands Series, Mr. Eddie Palmieri, founder of the now legendary bands “La Perfecta” and “La Perfecta II,” brought his Salsa Orchestra to Toronto, opening up the concert with a very emotional solo piano piece dedicated to his late wife, Iraida Palmieri. After this first theme, song after song from Mr. Palmieri’s extensive, and now classic songbook were revisited by a tight band following their charismatic leader. Muñeca, Palo Pa’Rumbá, Pa’La Ocha Tambó, Oyelo Que Te Conviene, Azucar Pa’Ti… filled the night with irresistible sincopated rhythms that made it hard for the audience to keep still on their seats. The great sonero Hermán Olivera projected his potent voice on top of the cascade of notes emanating from Eddie Palmieri’s piano, the melodic tres guitar riffs of Nelson González, the solid bass work of Luques Curtis, the exhilarating horn section integrated by Conrad Herwig, Joe Fiedler, Louis Fouché and Jonathan Powell, and a thunderous explosion of rhythm, “Little Johnny” Rivero on congas and Camilo Molina on timbales. It was indeed a night to remember.
Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra
- Eddie Palmieri, leader & piano
- Conrad Herwig, trombone
- Joseph Fiedler, trombone
- Hermán Olivera, lead vocals
- Nelson González, tres guitar & vocals
- Luques Curtis, bass
- Louis Fouché, alto sax
- Jonathan Powell, trumpet
- Vincent “Little Johnny” Rivero, congas
- Camilo Molina, timbales
Photos by Atael Weissman (click on photos to enlarge)
Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto
On Thursday, October 13, 2022, representing two generations of Cuban Piano Masters, Hilario Durán and David Virelles got together at Koerner Hall, one of the most magnificent concert venues in Toronto. They were celebrating the release (in Canada) of their new recording Front Street Duets (Alma Records), a project they started working on at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Both artists were extremely happy of releasing their duet album after these past two years of the unimaginable worldwide health crisis. They were also excited to be in Toronto, and for being able to accommodate their busy schedules to perform their music in front of a very enthusiastic audience. Durán and Virelles expressed their utmost respect and admiration for each other. David from an early age considered Hilario as one of his musical heroes, a musical giant and influential figure in Cuba, in Canada and abroad. Hilario considers David as one of the most important Cuban pianist of his generation, a big star shining globally, from the highly competitive musical scene in New York.
The concert got started started with Epistrophy, the first tune copyrighted by Thelonious Monk, followed by Sophisticated Lady / In A Sentimental Mood, two compositions by Duke Ellington. Next, Durán and Virelles performed four tunes from their new album: 1. Danza Lucumí, (beautifully arranged by Virelles), a song written by Alejandro García Caturla, a Cuban composer who together with Amadeo Roldán, are considered the leaders of Afro-cubanismo, a nationalist musical trend that incorporates Afro-Cuban songs, rhythms, and dances. 2. Challenge, a new composition by Durán. 3. La Malanga (also arranged by Virelles), a composition by Calixto Varona, one of the most important composers from Santiago de Cuba from the XIX century. 4. Guajira For Two Pianos, the first track on the album Front Street Duet, a fiery composition written by Durán.
The first set came to an end with Airegin (an anadrome of Nigeria), a jazz standard composed by American saxophonist Sonny Rollins in 1954.
The second part of the concert started with a solo performance by David Virelles, Canción Estudio, composed by José Antonio “Ñico” Rojas, a prominent Cuban composer and guitarist, considered as one of the founders of the style of Cuban song called filin. Then it was Durán’s turn for an inspired solo performance of Autumn Nocturne (a notable composition written by Russian-born Josef Myrow with Kim Gannon). Durán had previously recorded this tune on his 1999 Justin Time Records release Habana Nocturna, a superb album that feature acclaimed saxophonist, flautist and bandleader Jane Bunnett, and drummer extraordinaire Horacio “El Negro” Hernández.
Next, both pianists performed a set of four pieces written by Hilario Durán for the recording Front Street Duets. 1. David’s Tumbao, a composition dedicated to David Virelles. Durán is well known for his fiery tumbao style when he’s playing. 2. Punto Cubano #1, inspired on the genre of Cuban music known as punto guajiro or punto cubano, a poetic art with music that became popular in the western and central regions of Cuba in the 17th century and consolidated as a genre in the 18th century. 3. Santos Suárez’s Memories pays tribute to the Havana neighbourhood where Durán grew up, where he fell in love with the piano and became a musician. It brings back cherished memories involving his upbringing, his family and close friends. 4. Milonga For Cuba, a very special tribute dedicated to the people who protested in Havana last summer 2021.
For the encore, Durán and Virelles interpreted a wonderful rendition of Body And Soul, a popular song and jazz standard written in 1930 with music by Johnny Green and lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton. Body and Soul is the track that closes the album Front Street Duets, and also brought to an end a tremendous musical night at Koerner Hall in Toronto.
Photographs by Danilo Navas
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