Home Reviews Revisiting El Sonido Nuevo/The New Soul Sound (Verve,1966)

Revisiting El Sonido Nuevo/The New Soul Sound (Verve,1966)

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“The finest work to date is, without question, El Sonido Nuevo. Vocal music is jettisoned, thus revealing, once and for all, the depth of Palmieri’s instrumental resources. Every single track of this LP is epochal. The clatter set up by (Barry) Rogers in “Los Jibaros,” for example, is extremely artistic, and “Ritmo Uni” is the most finished document of the trombone dimension in Sonido Nuevo that has yet to be heard. Palmieri fulfills the promise of his “Azucar” (Sugar For You) experiment in a variety of tracks, inventing new ostinatos and melodic fragments and counter ostinatos and single-note accents, becoming a virtual pianistic kaleidoscope.” Robert Farris Thompson

Cal Tjader and Eddie Palmieri’s El Sonido Nuevo would take the cake if awards were handed out for the most misleading cover art. If the unsuspecting buyer didn’t know any better, they might be led to believe the two men on the cover are professors taking a break between classes. Ultimately, we will never know why Verve Records made such an odd choice, but there is no question that fifty years after its creation, El Sonido Nuevo sounds as fresh and hip as the year it was released. Much like the cover, the story of the making of El Sonido Nuevo contains misconceptions and a revelation.

In 1965, Cal Tjader visited New York. While there, he saw Eddie Palmieri and Conjunto La Perfecta perform at The Cheetah. Impressed with the group’s musicianship, swing, and high energy, he introduced himself and proposed joining forces. “At first, I thought he wanted to record with me,” said Palmieri, “but Cal made it clear he wanted to record with my band and me.”

The invitation led to an exchange of an artist’s agreement between Morris Levy of Tico Records (Palmieri’s record label, which became Roulette Records) and Creed Taylor of MGM Verve Records (Tjader’s record label). Also, it resulted in two classic recordings: “El Sonido Nuevo” and “Bamboleate.” Required listening for anyone remotely interested in the roots of Latin music and Latin jazz.

The recording sessions took place at Rudy Van Gelders studio in Englewood, New Jersey, on May 24, 25, and 26,1966. The producers were Creed Taylor and Claus Ogerman. Charts for the eight selections were divided equally between Claus Ogerman and Eddie Palmieri, who co-wrote “Guajira en Azul,” “Unidos,” and the title track with Tjader. Moreover, Palmieri set the tone for the Verve album. He even arranged Broadway’s “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” to sound like a Mozambique, then a popular urban dance rhythm. But it was “Picadillo” (Tito Puente) chat critics singled out for the highest praise. Max Salazar said this: “(Eddie Palmieri and Cal Tjader) recorded one of the most moving, hair-raising ‘descargas’ in the history of Latin jazz.”

When the album came out in 1966, the aficionados and the “hipsters” embraced it, but the music was over the heads of Cal and Eddie’s followers, and record sales were poor.

Publicized as “The New Sound,” El Sonido’s eclectic repertoire alternated somewhere between “corny” and “hip.” Tunes such as “Picadillo,” “Guajira En Azul,” “El Sonido Nuevo,” “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” and “Unidos” lived up to the hype. Conversely, the theme from the movie theme, “Modesty” (set to a mambo beat) left something to be desired.

Several misconceptions about “El Sonido Nuevo” mostly stem from Creed Taylor’s original liner notes. According to Taylor, “Cal and Palmieri hit it off at once. They were in the same groove, and the listener can feel the flow and rapport between them on every track of the album.” In 2007, Eddie Palmieri dropped a bombshell when he revealed that he and Cal did not record during the making of “El Sonido Nuevo” and “Bamboleate.” “The amazing thing about the recording was that Cal never recorded with us,” said Palmieri during an episode of Caliente Latin Jazz on WKUVO, 89.3 FM. “We laid down the tracks, and later, Cal and I would speak by phone, and I told him, ‘this goes there,’ and ‘that goes there,’ and he came in at night and filled in (overdubbed) his parts. Cal was the most natural musician I have ever seen in my life! The way he was able to pull that off.”

Why it took Eddie Palmieri roughly fifty years to reveal these facts is anybody’s guess. Still, for avid listeners (like me) who grew up listening to Cal and Eddie religiously, it changed my perception of the album and added to its mystique.

In 1993, Polygram Records reissued the original LP in CD format and included six bonus tracks from previously released Cal Tjader sessions. Why Polygram chose to tinker with the flow of the original recording is anybody’s guess. On another front, it raises questions about the original master tapes and whether or not they exist. One of the most common criticisms surrounding “El Sonido Nuevo” is the shortness of the tracks. For example, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever clocks in at a mere one minute and fifty-nine seconds. If the master tapes exist, imagine a box set with new liner notes, outtakes, and photos of the sessions.

Did Cal Tjader and Eddie Palmieri create a “New Sound?” According to scholar Doctor Robert Farris Thompson, “El Sonido Nuevo is a new form of Latin New York music. founded on fresh drumming, an astringent bass, a piano mixing fixity of form with counterpoint, and a trombone extracting a maximum of emotion with a minimum of notes.” This much is for sure. Cal, Eddie, and La Perfecta found common ground and brought out the best in one another. Also, the sessions demonstrated Conjunto La Perfecta was more than a “dance band.”

The trombonist Barry Rogers deserves special mention for introducing Eddie Palmieri to John Coltrane (during the sessions), whose influence played a role in making “El Sonido Nuevo.” Perhaps it’s a stretch, but the vibraphonist Joe Locke went so far as to compare aspects of “El Sonido Nuevo” to Coltrane’s “Africa Brass.”

One year later, Cal and Eddie’s “roaring elephants” band reunited to record the highly acclaimed “Bamboleo.” But that is a story for another day!

Fifty-four years after its release, El Sonido Nuevo is a classic. It’s also part of the soundtrack of my life and holds a special place on my “eternal” playlist.

Personnel: Cal Tjader (vibraphone); Eddie Palmieri (piano); George Castro (flute and percussion); Tommy Lopez and Manny Oquendo, Ismael Quintana (drums, percussion); Barry Rogers, Julian Priester, Mark Weinstein (trombones), Bobby Rodriguez (bass).

Tracks: Los Jibaros, Guajira En Azul, Ritmo Uni, Picadillo, Modesty, Unidos, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, El Sonido Nuevo.

SOURCES

  • Amazon.com – General Information and Customer Reviews
  • Ballon, John (www.musthear.com) Review
  • Birnbaum, Larry – El Sonido Nuevo/The New Soul Sound Liner Notes (1993)
  • Caliente Latin Jazz with Eddie Palmieri (KUVO.ORG). El Sonido Nuevo Revisited     (Radio Broadcast, 2007)
  • Child, Johnwww.descarga.com – El Sonido Nuevo/The New Soul Sound Review
  • Flores, Juan – Salsa Rising! New York Latin Music of the Sixties Generation (Oxford University Press, 2016)
  • Reid, Duncan – Cal Tjader, The Life and Recordings of the Man Who Revolutionized Latin Jazz (McFarland & Company, 2013)
  • Thompson, Robert Farris – Aesthetic of the Cool. Article: New Voice from the Barrios
  • Taylor, Creed – El Sonido Nuevo/The New Soul Sound, Original liner notes (1963)

© 2020 Tomas Pena
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for a great review of a true classic. El Sonido Nuevo (along with Bamboleate) remain among my favorite Latin Jazz albums even after all these decades. I would say that no one was performing Latin Jazz at that time with such an innovative mix…several of the tunes combine modal Jazz-inspired piano and bass ostinatos underpinned by the then revolutionary Mozambique rhythm. It would be several decades before the rest of the Latin Jazz world caught up with them. I’m disappointed to learn that Cal and Eddie did not record together in real time!
    Thanks for the great work you’re doing in documenting and promoting Latin Jazz!

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