Meanwhile, Palmieri became one of the stars of the dance scene with albums like “Mozambique,” “Justicia,” his classic “Live at Sing Sing” albums recorded at the infamous New York prison with the R&B group Harlem River Drive, and my favorite, “The Sun of Latin Music,” recorded in 1973. Then, beginning with 1982’s “Sueño,” his recordings became more jazz-oriented, and like the percussionist Ray Barretto, he became one of the cornerstones of what would become Latin jazz.
These days Palmieri is playing with a dance-oriented band that plays hits like “La Malanga,” “Azúcar,” “La Libertad,” “Muñeca,” and “Yambú.” “It was Afro-Cuban, then it became Afro-Caribbean and now it’s Afro-World,” said Palmieri, acknowledging the demographic shifts of his fanbase.
But Palmieri isn’t feeling the love from his hometown, which he describes as “an old Western town that has been deserted; there’s no work.” Like other old-schoolers, Palmieri attributes the sad state of affairs to a commercializing trend that began in the 1980s called salsa romántica. Ironically the vocalist featured in the “Sun of Latin Music,” Lalo Rodríguez, became one of the biggest stars of the new, lighter genre, with one of his hits, “Devórame Otra Vez,” epitomizing it.
The state of salsa today is a mixed bag, driven by various trends like salsa-reggaetón fusion, like Victor Manuelle’s 2012 hit “Ella Lo Que Quiere Es Salsa,” with Voltio and Jowell y Randy, or the latest timba variations from Cuba, like Manolín, Bamboleo, or Isaac Delgado. In New York, groups lead by Jimmy Bosch and Jimmy Delgado represent a roots trend, and the younger players of Our Latin Thing do an excellent Fania All Stars Tribute.
In some ways the strongest force in the genre are dance conventions and the lively debate on whether it’s best to step first “on 2” (on the second beat) or “on 1.” Many new groups, as well as obscure classics guaranteed to make you a bonafide salsa snob can be found at the astonishingly comprehensive site Descarga http://www.descarga.com.
In New York, there is even a band called the Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra that does covers of hipster rock hits like TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me” and Arcade Fire’s “Keep the Car Running.” But in Puerto Rico, there are some interesting and progressive fusions going on between salsa and roots music like bomba and plena. Last year’s “Sono Sono,” a tribute to songwriter Tite Curet Alonso, featured the likes of Calle 13, world beat artist Seun Kuti, reggaetón MC Tego Calderón, reggae band Cultura Profética, neo-salsa band La PVC and postmodern pleneros Viento de Agua with old school guys like Roberto Roena, Danny Rivera, and Andy Montañez.