New York Times Concert Review – Making Room for Some Latin Polish and Propulsion (July 28, 2007)

Jazz in July, the long-running concert series at the 92nd Street Y, concluded its current season on Thursday night in anomalous fashion. In a concert featuring the pianist Eddie Palmieri and the trumpeter Brian Lynch, the tradition-minded series made room for Latin jazz: the real thing, piquant and polished, with an urgent approach to propulsion. And this experiment in programming, if that’s what you want to call it, was an exuberant success.

Along with Mr. Lynch and Mr. Palmieri — who recently shared credit for “Simpático” (Artist Share), which won a Grammy for best Latin jazz album — the evening’s cast included an incisive horn front line and an impeccable rhythm section, deployed in various combinations. From the bongo and cowbell specialist Little Johnny Rivero to the trombonist Conrad Herwig, every player had occasion to shine. Some, like the alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón and the drummer Dafnis Prieto, seemed to invigorate the ensemble with each fleeting improvisation.

Mr. Lynch was the leader and the only person onstage from beginning to end. He has a knife-blade articulation on his horn and a tone that stops short of brassy; he sounded more like a Clifford Brown bebop inheritor than a salsa pyrotechnician. But his command of rhythm, sharpened by a long apprenticeship with Mr. Palmieri, lent impressive authority to his playing, especially in such a percussion-heavy setting.

Twice Mr. Lynch pared down to a trumpet-and-piano format, creating the equivalent of a confessional aside on a busy convention floor. He performed his ballad “Que Sería La Vida” with Bill Charlap, the artistic director of Jazz in July; their rapport was willowy and beautifully restrained. He played “Iraida” with the song’s composer, Mr. Palmieri. Together they produced more of a cascading effect, and clearer undercurrents of pulse.

For roughly half the night, Mr. Palmieri ceded his place at the piano to Mr. Charlap, which was fine. But it was when Mr. Palmieri was at the piano that things took off. He made his entrance on Mr. Lynch’s “Guajira Dubois” and quickly asserted his command with a deep, two-handed churn. On “Palmas,” his own tune, Mr. Palmieri exercised control not just over rhythm but also over intensity and volume: his greater instrument was the band.

Mr. Charlap, who has now presided over three seasons at the Y, must have sensed that the concert would alter the usual composition of the audience. Without trying, he confirmed this in his capacity as host. When he introduced the Victor Young standard “My Foolish Heart,” there was a low murmur of gratified “ahhs.” When he announced “Palmas,” there were hoots and raucous cheers.

The beauty of the evening was that each response made sense, neither to the exclusion of the other. Obviously there’s a place for serious Latin music on the Jazz in July calendar, especially when it comes in this accomplished a form. Perhaps there will be future demand for it among the supporters of the series. Mr. Charlap seems to think so, and at least where his programming is concerned, he has a way of being right.