Mi Luz Mayor is both followup and sequel to Full Circle, pianist and bandleader Eddie Palmieri’s summer 2018 revisiting of the most popular tunes in his book. This time out, he plays the favorite songs of his wife, Iraida (who died in 2014). The music, performed by a 22-piece ensemble—including such Palmieri regulars as trumpeter Brian Lynch, trombonist Conrad Herwig, and baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber, as well as salsa stars Gilberto Santa Rosa and Hermán Olivera—dates from the golden age of salsa and is true to that era. It avoids new approaches along with Palmieri’s own signatures, like his trombones-and-flute front line. This stuff sounds classic.
Which also means that it’s not the place to look for meaty improvisation. The closest it gets to Palmieri-style jazz is on the funky “Mi Congo,” on which Carlos Santana does fiery solo work. Otherwise, the features go to the vocalists: Santa Rosa commits himself equally to the heartfelt ballad “Que Falta Tu Me Haces” and the irrepressible hip-shaker “Sun Sun Bae,” while Olivera sounds as much like a crooner on the strident “Yo Soy Mulato” as on the wistful “Soñando con Puerto Rico.” When they are quiet, the music is all ensemble, either a solid reef of bright horns or tangled layers of drums and percussion.