Album Of The Week: Mr. EP – A Tribute To Eddie Palmieri, Charlie Sepulveda & The Turnaround

by chipboaz on February 21, 2017

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What’s the best way to pay tribute to an artist that has made a massive impact upon your career, artistry, and craft? It’s a tough question to answer with any precision; there’s actually plenty of answers, but many of them fall short. They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but copying an artist directly opposes the aesthetics of jazz. Carrying on someone’s legacy through stories and dedications keeps them in our attention, but the focus often becomes the person, not the music they made. Creating something completely original and then dedicating it to a mentor serves as a nice tribute, but it’s often too detached and sometimes self-serving. The trick is to find that delicate balance between recognizing an influence, creating something new based upon that influence, and then connecting it back to the influence in an authentic way. That’s a tall order for any artist, that requires artistic maturity, deep reflection, and rich experience. Trumpet player Charlie Sepulveda brings all those elements to his music, and uses them smartly to honor one of his main influences on Mr. EP – A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri.

Songs Paying Tribute Directly To Palmieri
Several tracks on the album pay tribute directly to Palmieri, with the pianist performing in many cases. The album is bookended by two solo pieces performed by Palmieri, “Variations On A Theme 1” and “Variations On A Theme 2.” While short, both of these pieces capture the essence of Palmieri’s music in its most raw and exposed state. Sometimes harsh and dissonant, other times lush and beautiful, these are timeless snapshots of a master expressing himself on his instrument in a very transparent way. A solo bass line opens into an engagingly angular melody on the Palmieri penned “Charlie’s Whole Tone Blues.” Sepulveda, saxophonist Norberto Ortiz, and bass player Gabriel Rodriguez dig into their improvisations, each taking their own approach to the funky clave driven groove and song’s blues basis. Palmieri plays with tension throughout his solo, forcing dissonances and syncopations into the chord changes before falling into a groovy montuno for conguero Gadwin Vargas’ solo. The group sets up a laid-back cha cha cha on “Mr. EP,” creating a foundation for a rhythmic melody framed by unison band kicks. Ortiz takes his time developing a memorable idea into a series of aggressive runs, leading into Sepulveda’s statement, which comes alive through a combination of bluesy phrases, placed expertly on the groove. Pianist Bienvenido Dinzey combines running lines, triplet figures, and pieces of montuno, leading directly into an attention grabbing solo from Rodriguez, nicely mixing chops and soul. Palmieri’s presence is very evident throughout the album, and these tracks highlight his influence upon Sepulveda.

Latin Jazz Fireworks From The Turnaround With Explosive Results
Three tracks on the album feature the hard hitting Latin Jazz fireworks that we’ve come to expect from Sepulveda. As the rhythm section sets up a steady bomba groove, Ortiz and Sepulveda engage in a subtle call and response that twists and turns through the melody on “Bomba Pa’ Carmen.” Vibraphonist Felipe Fournier plays on the percussive nature of his instrument, inspiring enthusiastic interaction from the rhythm section, while Sepulveda shows his inner knowledge of bomba with lines that wind deep inside the rhythm. Pianist Eduardo Zayas moves ideas in and out of the harmonic structure fluidly, creating an interesting statement, before falling into an obstinato pattern for Vargas’ solo. There’s a great back and forth between the melody and rhythm section players that climaxes in dramatic band hits on “Mr. Jazz, “ sending the group quickly charging into solos. Ortiz wraps bop ideas around the melody and then through the changes, leading into a memorable solo from Sepulveda that captures the swing of the music beautifully. Fournier creates a witty solo that blends a quote of the Tito Puente composition “Maria Cervantes” with original ideas, until Zayas storms into a powerful montuno behind a high energy improvisation from Vargas. A staccato and rhythmic bass line sends the group flying into “Peer Magic,” an uptempo piece with flowing melody. Sepulveda charges right into his solo, mixing well placed riffs with syncopated figures until Ortiz races into a statement characterized by a bop fueled frenzy. The band comes down behind Dinzey whose improvisation builds into a furiously intense rhythmic exchange between Vargas and drummer Raul Maldonado. The group finds its comfort zone in high octane Latin Jazz, and when they dig into these songs, the results are explosive.

Bringing Vocalists Centerstage
Sepulveda takes a different approach on two songs, bringing vocalists in front of the group. The Turnaround lays down a jazz oriented bolero behind vocalist Yarimar Denisse on the Cuban classic “Besame Mucho.” There’s a depth to Denisse’s interpretation that shows a studied reference to Cuban repertoire, modern vocal performance, and jazz. Sepulveda displays his lyrical side, cleverly playing with rhythm, dynamics, and variations in tone to craft a smoldering and understated statement. “Si Tú Sabes” serves as a feature for rapper Sientenueve, who rhythmically bounces words off the sparse funk groove. Sepulveda channels his inner Miles Davis with melodic riffs that weave between the rap and a solo that coyly walks the line between jazz and hip hop. This track is a marked contrast to the rest of the album that both shows Sepulveda’s diverse musicality and his connection to the music of modern day Puerto Rico. Both songs find Sepulveda taking a distinctly different musical approach, providing some beautiful contrast to the album.

An Outstanding Album From Sepulveda Worthy Of Palmieri’s Legacy
So what is the best way to pay tribute to an artist that has made a massive impact upon your career? Sepulveda answers that question with class and style on Mr. EP – A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri, producing outstanding music worthy of the Mr. Palmieri. Sepulveda has spent much time with Palmieri and he understands the inner workings of Palmieri’s music, a fact that is reflected heavily in the album. Palmieri’s participation in the album gives the tribute some weight; the way that Sepulveda interacts with Palmieri on the album shows influence but strays away from imitation. Sepulveda captures the diversity of Palmieri’s musicality with multiple approaches performance, bringing tradition and modernity into a creative blend. Sepulveda never lets the weight of Palmieri’s legacy change his artistic direction though – the music overflows with Sepulveda’s musical personality, which has long been established. The Turnaround rhythm section provides a strong foundation which infuses the music with traditional rhythms and the spontaneous flexibility of jazz. Sepulveda’s trumpet serves as the core of the album; it is such a profound and pronounced voice that travels around the rhythmic structures with a heavy dose of jazz ingenuity. Mr. EP – A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri does the best thing that a tribute could do – it moves the music of both men forward with outstanding music that lets us remember Palmieri while enjoying Sepulveda’s artistry.

Track Listing:
1. Variations On A Theme 1 (Eddie Palmieri)
2. Charlie’s Whole Tone Blues (Eddie Palmieri)
3. Bomba Pa’ Carmen (Charlie Sepulveda)
4. Mr. EP (Charlie Sepulveda)
5. Bésame Mucho (Consuelo Velazquez)
6. Peer Magic (Charlie Sepulveda)
7. Si Tú Sabes (Charlie Sepulveda/Sientenueve)
8. Mr. Jazz (Charlie Sepulveda)
9. Variations On A Theme 2 (Eddie Palmieri)

Charlie Sepulveda – trumpet; Eddie Palmieri – piano (1, 2, 9); Norberto Ortiz – tenor saxophone; Gabriel Rodriguez – bass; Raul Maldonado – drums; Gadwin Vargas – congas; Bienvenido Dinzey – piano (4, 5, 6, 7); Eduardo Zayas – piano (3, 8); Felipe Fournier – vibes (3, 8); Yarimar Denise – vocals (5); Sientenueve – vocals (7)

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