Eddie Palmieri’s supergroup Harlem River Drive was the first group to really merge black and Latin styles and musicians, resulting in a free-form brew of salsa, funk, soul, jazz, and fusion. Though it was led by pianist Palmieri, the group also included excellent players from both the Latin community (his brother Charlie, Victor Venegas, Andy GonZalez) and the black world (Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Ronnie Cuber).
Named as an ironic reference to the New York City street which allowed predominantly suburban drivers to bypass East Harlem entirely on their way to lower Manhattan, Harlem River Drive released their groundbreaking debut album in 1970 on Roulette, including Latin and underground club hits like the title track and “Seeds of Life.” Unfortunately, Harlem River Drive was their only album, though the group did appear co-billed on Eddie Palmieri’s two-part 1972 release, Live at Sing Sing, Vols. 1-2.
The record is a landmark crossover album from the early 70s, cut at the end of the Latin soul era, but featuring that genre’s wonderful mix of Puerto Rican soul, Spanish Harlem Latin, and New York funk. The grooves are all nice and long, with plenty of hard jamming, and soulful lyrics in English that have a very positive message
A1 Harlem River Drive 4:05
A2 If (We Had Peace Today) 2:56
A3 Idle Hands 8:27
B1 Broken Home 10:35
B2 Seeds of Life 5:07
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
The reason this record is “legendary” is because it marks the first recorded performances, in 1970, of Eddie and Charlie Palmieri as bandleaders. The reason it should be a near mythical recording (it has never been available in the U.S. on CD, and was long out of print on LP before CDs made the scene), is for its musical quality and innovation. The Palmieris formed a band of themselves, a couple of Latinos that included Andy Gonzales, jazz-funk great — even then — Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, and some white guys and taught them how to play a music that was equal parts Cuban mambo, American soul via Stax/Volt, blues, Funkadelic-style rock, pop-jazz, and harmonic and instrumental arrangements every bit as sophisticated as Burt Bacharach’s or Henry Mancini’s or even Stan Kenton’s. One can hear in “Harlem River Drive (Theme)” and “Idle Hands” a sound akin to War‘s on World Is a Ghetto. Guess where War got it? “If (We Had Peace)” was even a model for Lee Oskar’s “City, Country, City.” And as much as War modeled their later sound on this one record, as great as they were, they never reached this peak artistically.
But there’s so much here: the amazing vocals (Jimmy Noonan was in this band), the multi-dimensional percussion section, the tight, brass-heavy horn section, and the spaced-out guitar and keyboard work (give a listen to “Broken Home“) where vocal lines trade with a soprano saxophone and a guitar as snaky keyboards create their own mystical effect. One can bet that Chick Corea heard in Eddie’s piano playing a stylistic possibility for Return to Forever’s Light As a Feather and Romantic Warrior albums. The band seems endless, as if there are dozens of musicians playing seamlessly together live — dig the percussion styling of Manny Oquendo on the cowbell and conga and the choral work of Marilyn Hirscher and Allan Taylor behind Noonan.
Harlem River Drive is a classic because after 40-plus years, it still sounds as if listeners are the ones catching up to it. It’s worth every dime you pay for it, so special order it today.
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