“Azucar Pa’ Ti (Sugar For You)” has got to be the definitive Eddie Palmieri recording during his early days with La Perfecta . An established band by 1965, La Perfecta made some big noise on the dance floor playing at all the hot venues, including the legendary Palladium. The group rode the pop crest of the charanga craze, helping to replace the traditional violins with one lone flute leading Palmieri’s band of trombones.
But the Palladium of 1965 was not the ‘happening’ scene it once was when big brother Charlie Palmieri played alongside Tito Rodríguez, Tito Puente and Machito in 1955. The music scene, like the rest of the world, was in transition. The Beatles had hit the United States with a sound that transformed the American pop charts, the murder of Medgar Evers set the civil rights movement on fire, an embargo on anything Cuban was in full swing, John Coltrane had released his groundbreaking recording Transition, while Eddie Palmieri created sugar for us with his sweet sound.
Featuring the original “Oyelo Que Te Conviene” and its centerpiece dance tune “Azucar”, this recording highlights some nasty, tasty solo instrumental work by Barry Rodgers on “Solo Pensar En Ti”, Manny Oquendo on “Los Cueros Me Llaman” and on bongos in “Oyelo Que Te Conviene” and el rumbero del piano himself, Eddie Palmieri on “Azucar Pa’ Ti”. It also breaks the standard recording timeframe, with Palmieri recording the way he played live. “Azucar”, for example, was a wildly popular and requested dance number, that when recorded for Rodríguez in 1965, ran more than eight minutes long.
Palmieri began his recording career on Alegre before making the switch to Tico when owner Morris Levy buys Eddie’s Alegre contract. Morris requests a favor from jazz disc jockey Symphony Sid who was broadcasting from WABC Radio. Once the “Azucar Pa’ Ti” 45 rpm single hit heavy rotation, the company, and Palmieri, scored their biggest hit.
Opening with the smooth bolero, “Solo Pensar En Ti”, Barry Rodgers, much like a troubadour, heralds in the vocals of Ismael Pat Quintana who brings you into this music with the embrace of a lover and the pull from his jazzy and taunting trombone.
“Mi Sonsito” is a saucy, cha cha charanga that shows off Pat Quintana’s melodic improvisations around the wave of trombones that pave a way for Oquendo’s steady, precise and lyrically articulated timbal solo.
“Azucar” is more than just a fantastic dance number—it’s a highly charged descarga. Palmieri’s solo combines two distinct rhythmic patterns as he holds up the montuno with his left hand while improvising with the right. The two sets of moñas (counterpoint) employed by the ‘bones as they’re flirting with the flute just pumps up the funk and dance volume. Cocked and loaded, this type of explosive and extended dance set in a Latin music recording was unprecedented…until Eddie Palmieri. ¡Mambo!
You learn more every day about friends and life as “Cuídate Compay” aptly states. A nicely paced cha cha that warns the listener about believing in just anyone, it features a flute and piano solo with hints of McCoy Tyner jazz licks mixed with old school guajeos.
“Los Cueros Me Llaman” also beckons the dancer with this spicy call and response that is backed by another Oquendo solo that is determined, authoritative and tasty. No flying fists of fury here, this is pure masacote that speaks to the musicians and the dancers while fueled from some spiritual center. Off the chart counterpoints by Rogers and Rodríguez heighten the tune to its zenith as Quintana and chorus come in for the finale.
A danceable cha cha cha, “Tema Del Apolo” features a strong call-and-response with the flute and trombones creating a flowery scenery on top of its rhythmic engine.
The first rendition of what would become a major hit ten years later, “Oyelo Que Te Conviene”, featuring Pat Quintana, completes this seven number signature work known as “Azucar Pa’ Ti (Sugar For You)”
Eddie Palmieri – Piano
Barry Rodgers – Trombone
Manny Oquendo – Timbales, Bongo
Lead Vocal – Ismael Quintana
Producer – Teddy Reig
Written by Aurora Flores