By the time he released The Heavyweight in 1978, bandleader and keyboardist extraordinaire Charlie Palmieri had already recorded his share of masterpieces for the Alegre label; albums such as El Gigante del Teclado, Vuelve El Gigante and Adelante, Gigante had established Charlie Palmieri’s band as one of the decade’s most elegant conjuntos. Propelled by the visionary keyboard artistry of Eddie Palmieri’s older brother, these earlier records boasted the smoky vocalizing of Puerto Rican crooner Vitín Avilés.
A reckless firecracker of a session, The Heavyweight is an idiosyncratic record that adds decidedly eccentric touches to the Palmieri experience. It also follows his time proven credo of catering to the Latino dance floor with numbers that swing mercilessly, while maintaining an exquisite sense of restraint about them. In addition, it finds the bandleader seriously infatuated with the melodica, an instrument he uses in many of the tracks here, creating unique atmospherics that sound alternately humorous and nostalgic.
Most notably, Avilés was not enlisted as lead vocalist on this recording. At the time, the singer was busy recording a solo effort titled Con Mucha Salsa, to which Palmieri himself contributed keyboards and arrangements. In his place, Julito Villot and Panama’s own Meñique shared the singing duties. Meñique’s smoldering soneos are particularly effective when he plays the role of the outraged husband admonishing his unfaithful wife on the raw salsa jam No Puedo Más.
Unlike previous Palmieri efforts for Alegre, The Heavyweight includes only six tracks—lengthy numbers with plenty of space for swinging solos and thorny improvisations.
One of these tunes is Melodica In ‘F’, an eight-minute descarga that begins on a surprisingly solemn mood, with Palmieri performing a plaintive, march-like melody on the melodica framed by fiery brass riffs. A lovely tres interlude is followed by the tune’s hypnotic chorus: “Para bailar el danzoncito, hay que tener mucho compás” (In order to dance the little danzón, you need to have plenty of rhythm). That’s when the tune really comes to life. Boosted by the timbales’ staccato cowbell, as well as cries of encouragement from the vocalists, Palmieri delivers one of his priceless piano solos—gutsy and sophisticated at the same time. The track ends with some downright dissonant melodica notes and humorous underpinnings, demonstrating that Palmieri was never the kind of bandleader to take himself too seriously.
One look at Palmieri as depicted on the cover art of the old Alegre LP makes it very evident that the man loved to eat. His musical associates as well as his brother, Eddie, remember Charlie Palmieri as a larger-than-life man with a boundless appetite for quality music and good food. An excellent cook and lover of fine cognac, he transposed his weakness for authentic Latin American cuisine into his repertoire: El Pan Sobao, Arroz con Pollo and the opening track on this very record, Arroz con Bacalao, which finds Julito Villot singing with abandonment about the joys of eating a hefty plate of fish and rice, are some examples.
Unfortunately, Palmieri’s love for gourmet cooking was also his downfall. He passed away in 1988 at age 60 after years of recurrent heart problems.
In subsequent years, new generations of salseros made a name for themselves by capturing the public spotlight, and the remarkable creations of Palmieri were remembered and treasured solely by serious Afro-Cuban aficionados. Now, the reissue of this one-of-a-kind session allows us the opportunity to rediscover the genius of a real Latin music heavyweight.
Piano/Melodica/Leader – Charlie Palmieri
Bass – Bobby Rodriguez
Timbales – Quique Davila
Conga – Papiro Allende
Bongos – Willie Rodriguez
Trumpets – Roy Roman, Loui Laurita
Trombone – Mark Katz
Tres – Harry Viggiano
Sax – Bobby Nelson
Chorus: Adalberto Santiago, Vitin Aviles, Frankie Figueroa, Meñique
Original Liner Notes – Carlos De Jesus
Original Photography – Dominique
Original Art & Design – Smoken Graffics Inc
Recording Studio – La Tierra, New York City
Engineer – Irv Greenbaum
Art Director – Esmerelda Dering
Consultant – Al Santiago
Producer – Charlie Palmieri
Executive Producer – Jerry Masucci
Arrangers – Charlie Palmieri, Bobby Valentin (“Consuelate”), Roy Roman (“No Puedo Mas”)
Vocals – Meñique & Julito Villot on “Chaleco”
Written by Ernesto Lechner