One of the brightest jewels in the opulent crown of the Tico record label, “Bamboléate” was the second and last collaboration between Latin jazz giant Cal Tjader and salsa pioneer Eddie Palmieri.

A unique session, it evokes a feeling of utter restraint and supreme elegance that is just what the doctor ordered in this day and age. “Bamboléate” is a classic masterpiece brimming with vitality and an enviable sense of artistic purpose. Mention the Tjader diptych to Palmieri, and the Nuyorican keyboardist laughs in his usual, affable manner. You’re going way back, he says in his flavorful Spanish accent. 40 years ago. That’s the time when I was old. People always say: La Perfecta was Palmieri’s old orchestra– and I tell them that yes, eso era cuando yo era viejo.

Around 1965, Cal came to New York and saw me in concert, Palmieri recalls. I think he was stunned by the sheer energy of my band and he came up with the idea of us recording together. He saw the opportunity of doing something different. I feel that we exploited this concept solely in musical terms. Commercially, the project never really took off. The idea was that the duo would first record an album for Tjader’s label, and then another one for Palmieri’s.

Accordingly, the excellent El Sonido Nuevo came out on MGM/Verve in 1966. Tico released “Bamboléate” in 1967. It was an amazing experience. Tjader was tremendously talented. By the time we got together, he was very famous. He had already recorded with the infamous rhythm section of Mongo Santamaría and Willie Bobo, who left the Tito Puente orchestra to work full time with him.

The concept of El Sonido Nuevo (“The New Sound”) referred to us recording together for the first time. Indeed, if Cal hadn’t thought of it, none of this would have happened. A study in contrasts, “Bamboléate” includes orgiastic tracks that could rightfully belong in any of the Palmieri albums with La Perfecta, as well as silky Latin jazz excursions that recall Tjader masterful albums from the late ’50s such as Monterey Concerts. The irresistible frenzy of the opening title track, a Palmieri original, is followed by a truly memorable version of the Henry Mancini nugget “We’ve Loved Before”. Here, Tjader’s vibes lead the way, framed by a lovely brass arrangement and Palmieri’s meditative piano notes.

The piece is seeped in a dreamy atmosphere of sweet nostalgia. One of the session’s key numbers is the sophisticated Palmieri composition “Resemblance”, which echoes the bewitching moods of mainstream American jazz from the ’60s and builds up to an unforgettable crescendo. I was always devoted to the structures of Cuban dance music, explains Palmieri. But then came the influence of some fantastic teachers in my life, who introduced me to the world of jazz harmony.

The keyboardist credits his older brother, the late Charlie Palmieri, for helping him develop a truly eclectic musical taste. At home, he would play Latin records by the likes of Machito, Noro Morales and Vicentico Valdés. But he would also bring big band recordings from the ’40s and ’50s such as Glenn Miller. My brother’s musical wisdom had no limits. If anything, “Bamboléate” is a testament to the extraordinary versatility of both Palmieri and Tjader. The record also includes a Brazilian flavored piece (Tjader’s own “Samba Do Suenho”), as well as a funky guajira courtesy of the Palmieri songbook (“Guajira Candela”). It is truly unfortunate that Cal passed away so young, concludes Palmieri in reference to Tjader’s death in 1982 at age 56. He was like a brother to me. I always carry his memory in my thoughts and in my soul.

Credits: Eddie Palmieri – Piano Cal Tjader – Vibes Producer – Pancho Cristal

Written by Ernesto Lechner