Over the years, the famous collaboration between vibraphonist Cal Tjader and pianist Eddie Palmieri has been described by as “a landmark in the history of Latin jazz,” “enjoyable,” and “easy listening,” and “corny.”
When Verve released the album in 1966, the reaction was mixed. With the exception of the song, Picadillo, the music did not live up to the expectations of Cal and Eddie’s followers, which translated into disappointing record sales. Fifty-plus years later, El Sonido Nuevo and Bamboleate (1967) are widely considered Latin jazz classics.
As the story goes, in 1965, Cal Tjader visited New York. While there, he saw Eddie Palmieri and Conjunto La Perfecta perform at The Palm Gardens Ballroom in Manhattan. “I thought he wanted me to record with him, but he wanted to record with La Perfecta.” The invitation led to an exchange of an artist’s agreement between Morris Levy of Tico Records (Palmieri’s label) and Creed Taylor of MGM Verve Records (Tjader’s label). It resulted in El Sonido Nuevo and Bamboleate.
El Sonido Nuevo’s 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, the title track with Tjader and arranged On a Clear Day You Can See Forever to a Cuban Mozambique rhythm. But it was Tito Puente’s “Picadillo” chat critics singled out as “one of the most moving, hair-raising ‘descargas’ in the history of Latin jazz.”
Interestingly, when El Sonido Nuevo dropped in 1966, it was embraced by enthusiasts and rejected mainly by Cal and Eddie’s followers, who were taken aback by the eclectic and somewhat progressive repertoire. Tunes such as Picadillo, Guajira En Azul, El Sonido Nuevo, and Unidos lived up to the hype. Still, the theme from the British comic strip and spy comedy film Modesty Blaise and the Broadway musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever fell short.
One of the biggest misconceptions about El Sonido Nuevo stems from Creed Taylor’s ambiguous liner notes, which read, “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.” Forty-one years later (2007), Eddie Palmieri debunked Taylor’s liner notes. “The amazing thing about the recording was that Cal never recorded with us,” said Palmieri during an episode of Caliente Latin Jazz (WKUVO, 89.3 FM). “[On] neither of the two albums that we made did Cal record with me; I would give him instructions, and he would come in at night, and he did it perfectly, to a T. When we made that album, they wanted to gag me because I was making these [grunting sounds]. They kept looking around and couldn’t figure out what it was, but it was me. Then the engineer [Fred Weinberg] said, “Listen, that’s how he plays,” and they didn’t bother me anymore.”
In 1993, Polygram Records reissued the original LP in CD format and included six bonus tracks from previously released Cal Tjader sessions.
One of the most common criticisms surrounding El Sonido Nuevo is the brevity of the tracks. For example, On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever clocks in at a mere one minute and fifty-nine seconds. Which raises questions such as, why are the tracks so short? What happened to Rudy Van Gelder’s master tape? It would be interesting to hear the songs and outtakes as they were initially intended and recorded.
Did Cal Tjader and Eddie Palmieri create a “New Sound?” Opinions vary, but 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 certain. Even though Cal, Eddie, and La Perfecta did not record together, they found common ground. Also, they brought out the best in one another. Also, it demonstrated that Conjunto La Perfecta was more than just a “dance band.”
On a personal note, El Sonido Nuevo is one of a few seminal recordings that furthered my perception of the symbiotic relationship between Latin music and jazz.
In 1967, Cal, Eddie, and La Perfecta reunited and recorded the highly acclaimed Bamboleate. In 1999 Palmieri wrote the liner notes and selected the songs for the Verve compilation, The Ultimate Cal Tjader.
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.
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 (Periscope; y First printing edition (December 5, 2011).
Taylor, Creed – El Sonido Nuevo/The New Soul Sound, Original liner notes (1963).
© 2020, 2023 Tomas Pena
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED