Eddie Palmieri at the Olympia Theater in Miami, Saturday.
Photo by Luis Olazábal. The Rhythm Foundation

Maestro Eddie Palmieri has always done things his way so, well, what if he has been celebrating his 80th birthday for almost a year and a half now? (The actual date was Dec. 15th,  2016). At the Olympia Theater in Miami, Saturday, he entered the stage gingerly, with the help of an assistant, but once he sat at the piano, he showed his familiar wit, verve, and capacity to surprise.

After opening with a brief but affecting solo piece dedicated to his late wife Iraida, Palmieri the player largely ceded the spotlight to the members of his sextet. Saturday´s repertoire included glances back to his collaboration with Cal Tjader (“Picadillo,” a Tito Puente song from their album El Sonido Nuevo; and Tjader’s “Samba do Sonho,” a highlight of the evening, from their second recording, Bamboléate) but also an instrumental version of “Revolt/La Libertad Lógico,” a nod to his exceptional catalog from the 1970s.

A genial, engaging emcee, he launched the pieces and then stepped back, mostly content with framing the overall sound and supporting the soloing. With Palmieri, that’s no small contribution. For all his experimentation and innovations, he has never lost sight of the dance floor and you can still set your watch by his montunos. Moreover, as the pieces unfolded, Palmieri would pick his spots and add his musical comments – an unexpected, underlined harmony here, a dissonant cluster or a Monk-style cross-rhythm there.
A lion in winter is still a lion.

Palmieri was once l’enfant terrible of Latin music, “El Molestoso,” the annoying one, as the title of one of his signature pieces of the 1960s  proclaimed, so no, he is not going gently into that good night.

That’s another good reason to celebrate. Happy birthday, Mr. Palmieri.