As if by cosmic and/or intentional design, the fall-to-spring Jazz at the Lobero series was bookended by the crowd-appeasing sounds of Latin jazz. Last fall, West Coast legend Poncho Sanchez was in the house, and last week, the Lobero’s series wrapped with veteran pianist Eddie Palmieri, a hero among true Latin jazz pioneers.
Now 82 and still spry, if not as nimble at the keyboard as before, Palmieri knows how to ingratiate, entertain, fire up, and educate the house. Between onstage musical energies, he supplied a haiku history of Latin jazz as the amalgam of seminal influences from African slaves on U.S. soil, Spanish imperialists in the Caribbean, and the N.Y.C.-based style alchemists Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, and, although he didn’t brag on it, Eddie Palmieri.
Opening the show, a sweet ballad written for his late wife, Iraida Palmieri, led into such grooving, infectious tunes as “Strawberry Strudel” and “Picadillo,” which he recorded with the late Puente. In his current six-piece band, the standout soloists were timbales player Camilo Molina and alto saxist Louis Fouché (who also can be heard on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in Jon Batiste’s band). Trumpeter Jonathan Powell acquitted himself boldly, often going for high-note glory, and conguero Vicente “Little Johnny” Powell injected some comic relief.
After delegating soloing spotlights to other players, the pianist finally stepped up to the improvisational plate toward show’s end. He put in a tasteful solo on the new “Danzon” (heard in its world premiere here, he later told us) and nudged toward harmonic outer limits in the introduction to the final tune, “Samba do Suenho,” which he recorded with Cal Tjader in the late ’60s.
But the end was not the end, as the impish leader struck up the band in short “break tune” musical quips, comedy bits, and more solo space for the drum contingent. He wanted to make sure a good time was had in the house. Mission accomplished.