“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 been 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
If awards were handed out for the most misleading cover-art, Cal Tjader and Eddie Palmieri’s El Sonido Nuevo would take the cake. In fact, 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. In the end, 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 the idea of joining forces. “At first, I thought he wanted to record with me,” said Palmieri, “but Cal made it clear he wanted to record with me and my band.”
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 who is 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 had this to say: “(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.
There are several misconceptions about El Sonido Nuevo that 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 during the making of El Sonido Nuevo (and Bamboleate), he and Cal did not record together. “The amazing thing of 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 that 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. Case in point, the tune On a Clear Day You Can See Forever clocks in at a mere one minute and fifty-nine seconds. If the master tapes do exist, imagine a box-set with updated liner notes, the tracks in their entirety, outtakes, and photos.
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 clearly demonstrated Conjunto La Perfecta was more than just 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 the making of 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 band of “roaring elephants” reunited to record the highly acclaimed follow-up to El Sonido Nuevo titled Bamboleate. But, that’s 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.
- 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, John – www.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)
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