Even if you live in the northern regions of the U.S. as I do, there's just something infectious about Latin rhythms. The number and variety of rhythms makes all but the most impassive nod their head, tap a foot or even more.
Take those rhythms and let talented jazz musicians play with them, and you've got an idiom that has earned its own category in the Grammy Award nominations a decade ago — Latin jazz. Now combine a Wisconsin-raised hard bop trumpet player who has fully imbued himself with the concepts of Latin jazz with a great Latin pianist/composer/band leader and you've got The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project.
The pairing's first release, Simpático, last week earned a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album. That may be somewhat surprising in part due to the unique way in which it is being presented. The music has been available only through Lynch's ArtistShare website. While ArtistShare is a prequel to the CD, it's the music that really counts.
From its opening cut, "The Palmieri Effect," Simpático presents the listener with a cascade of sound. Whether as an ensemble or the ensuing trades amongst Lynch's trumpet, Conrad Herwig's trombone, Greg Tardy's tenor sax and, particularly, Palmieri's piano, the tune celebrates with a torrent of rhythms and note-filled solos. Although named for growls that Palmieri tends to utter in the midst of his solos, it is a fine display of the talent of the ensemble and what is to come.
The range is seen in the next tune, "Que Seria La Vida." This straight-ahead, bolero-style ballad is highlighted by Mexican-American vocalist Lila Downs. According to Lynch, Downs came with the lyrics and it was the first time he had written a song to a lyric. It comes off successfully. Downs also provides vocals for a salsa spin on "Paginas de Mujer," a song Palmieri co-wrote and released on his own CD some 15 years ago. With its salsa influences, this lengthier version serves up what may be perhaps the most typical Latin jazz sound on the CD.
Proving that he, too, is fully versed in the idiom, the Lynch-written "Guajira Dubois" also perfectly fits the Latin jazz idiom. Although led upfront by Lynch's trumpet playing, we soon hear an excellent performance by sax legend Phil Woods. In fact, Lynch pays tribute to Woods, in whose quintet he played in the 1990s, with the title. "Dubois" means "woods" in French.
But Palmieri and Lynch don't limit their work to what might be considered traditional Latin music. Simpático contains some highly up-tempo, more straight-ahead jazz pieces. Lynch contributes "Jazz Impromptu," which has a smooth ensemble sound and again features Woods as a soloist. In addition, Lynch and Palmieri combined to write two more traditional jazz tunes. These include "Slippery," a highly syncopated straight-ahead almost big band sound that features not only virtually every member of the ensemble but whose highlight may be a tremendous bop-tinged solo by Woods, and "Freehands," highlighted by excellent solos by Palmieri and alto saxophonist Donald Harrison.
Lynch and Palmieri also take a somewhat new direction in the marketing of the music. As noted, the CD is available via ArtistShare. Yet Lynch also documented the entire composing and recording process that led to the CD and provides "participants" with access to video and audio clips and downloads, blog-type entries, sheet music, essays and rehearsals. The variously priced levels of participation range from one which grants access to this trove, the CD, and bonus tracks not available on the CD to levels that not only provide earlier recordings but online trumpet lessons and lectures. (Sorry, the $7,000 "Executive Producer" level, which included "a one of a kind, hand-signed (engraved) Yamaha Custom trumpet" that was one of Lynch’s personal instruments is sold out.)
Whether the ArtistShare concept will blossom is a question separate and distinct from the music itself. In that regard, Simpático is an almost unqualified success.