Charlie Sepúlveda and the Turnaround – Mr. EP – A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri

Charlie Sepúlveda and the Turnaround – Mr. EP – A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri (HighNote)

Puerto Rican trumpeter Charlie Sepúlveda has been a fixture of the Latin jazz world since the late 1980s when he played in the band of pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri. During the 1990s, a renaissance period for el jazz Latino, the brassman gigged and recorded with many notables, from Dizzy Gillespie and Tito Puente to David Sánchez and David Byrne and the Talking Heads. He launched his own group, The Turnaround, 25 years ago, and has been turning the tables on the traditional Latin jazz format ever since.

Mr. EP is as much a tribute to what Sepúlveda has accomplished in the past quarter century as it is to his former mentor. Palmieri, however, is present, both in person on three tracks and in spirit throughout. The legendary maestro opens and closes the session with tidy solo-piano explorations which tap his unique blend of classical embellishments, thunderous accents, flirtations with dissonance and a penchant for quirky rubato lines. “Charlie’s Whole Tone Blues,” a Palmieri composition, gives the pianist an opportunity to stretch out with Sepúlveda’s current San Juan-based ensemble. It’s a jaunty ride, with the trumpeter and tenor saxophonist Norberto Ortiz pairing for a harmonically taut unison. Palmieri solos and comps with his usual riveting bravado and conguero Gadwin Vargas takes a fiery turn.

The leader’s talent for updating the genre is evident on two disparate tracks. He rejuvenates “Bésame Mucho,” the venerable bolero written in 1940, with a sensual, pop-influenced vocal by Yarimar Denisse. And “Si Tú Sabes,” one of five Sepúlveda works on the set, features funkified tropical rhythms and the horn man’s muted trumpet accents as a backdrop for rapper Sietenueve’s easy-flowing vocal. Vibraphonist Felipe Fournier, who briefly quotes Tito Puente’s solo on the Cuban standard “Maria Cervantes,” joins the group for another tune by the leader, “Mr. Jazz.” The arrangement is a succinct reminder of how bebop and salsa became kissing cousins and just how fluent Sepúlveda is in both languages.

Mark Holston

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