by Mike Corrigan

Major musicians, both artists and award winners, are no strangers to the stages in Spokane. But often the stops are part of a larger tour, and their involvement in the community may be limited to a sighting at a downtown restaurant. But maybe it's the collaborative nature of jazz -- the ongoing dialogue between the musicians, the space and the audience -- that makes it seem even more spectacular when a major artist in the jazz world comes to town. It's as if the community has been invited to join a conversation, or take part in artistic collaboration.

For pianist EDDIE PALMIERI, collaboration has been a part of his professional life since his childhood in Spanish Harlem in the Thirties. The brother of the late legendary salsa pianist Charlie Palmieri, he tried to find his way out of "El Barrio," as the neighborhood was known, by taking on a role with his uncle's orchestra as a percussionist. But it was at the piano that Palmieri excelled, and to this day he credits his early love of the drums for his style at the keyboard, which has been described by the press as being "like Muhammad Ali boxed."

"I'm a frustrated percussionist, so I take it out on the piano," Palmieri likes to joke. Whatever the motivation behind his style, it's worked to establish Palmieri as one of the premiere Latin musicians of all time. In addition to his solo and ensemble work, he has composed for the Ballet Hispanico of New York, currently on national tour, and he has served as a consultant to Paul Simon on his release Rhythm of the Saints. This weekend, the six-time Grammy award winner -- five of them solo and the most recent in collaboration with the legendary Tito Puente -- will add opening the 20th Annual Spokane Falls Community College Jazz Festival to his list of activities.

Joining Palmieri onstage will be Jose Madera, who was a percussionist with the Tito Puente Band, and the bassist Joe Santiago. If Palmieri's past record of collaboration is any indication, the Spokane audience can expect a warm start to February.

The festival's second evening features another Grammy winner in the person of saxophonist ERNIE WATTS, who will be joined by his quartet "New Stories." With a career that ranges across 500 different recordings with artists as diverse as Frank Zappa and Thelonius Monk, Watts was also a staff musician for NBC, performing regularly with The Tonight Show Band. During the ensuing years of work, Watts has emerged as one of the most reliable and soulful tenor players in the jazz world. For his own recordings, he's surrounded himself with a crowd that speaks volumes not only about Watts' taste, but also his clout: Arturo Sandoval, Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette, among others.

But Watts is not one to make arbitrary distinctions between the various genres in which he works. Whether he's infusing a studio session with a dose of the blues, or improvising for a live performance of Mark Isham's score for the film After Glow, for Watts the important thing has always been to keep playing.

"Whatever I play," Watts explains, "whenever I play, whether it's onstage or in the studio, by myself or in front of an audience, whenever I pick up my instrument, the music is the priority. For me, the main thing is just to be playing, because in that way, I will always have the opportunity to keep that growth cycle going."

In addition to the two main artists, both in concert at the SFCC Music Building Auditorium, the festival will also feature the SFCC Jazz Ensemble, joined by the Kansas City Stars, Stan Kessler, Todd Wilkinson and Keith Mallory. But what jazz lovers may end up enjoying the most out of this weekend's offerings are the two post-concert jam sessions which will be taking place at Ankeny's Lounge in the Ridpath Hotel. With artists as committed and as versatile as Watts and Palmieri in town, there's no way to guess exactly what type of music will emerge when the musicians sit down with the audience and the notes start to flow.

The drum, the drums. They call to me. In my waking hours and in my sleep. They call to me from across vast distances and times. They summon me to my feet, and though I am deep within the trance-like state that defines my workday demeanor, I feel compelled to move. A trembling overcomes me. Like some fragile proselyte overwhelmed with religious fervor, I am shaking with primal righteousness. All continence is lost to the rhythm in a rush of exiting inhibitions. The drums are unrelenting in their sorcery. In spite of fear and in spite of reason -- I dance.

Authentic and intoxicating Latin music will be flowing this weekend as the seven-piece San Diego-based band AGUA DULCE makes an appearance at Mootsy's on Friday night.

The music of Agua Dulce ("Sweet Water") is a fiery melting pot of different styles and rhythms that carries audiences along a musical journey through Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Brazil. Agua Dulce's repertoire embraces Afro-Cuban, salsa, samba, bossa nova, Latin jazz, cumbia, reggae and funk to create a rhythm-heavy yet highly melodic and imminently danceable concoction.

Brothers Tizoc and Joaquin Hernandez form the backbone of the band on bass and drums, respectively. They've played with each other for more than 15 years and exhibit an uncanny (some say spooky) drum-bass simpatico. Dante Loaiza sings lead in English and Spanish as well as playing the Puerto Rican guitar (the "Quatro"), trumpet and percussion. Israel Maldonado sings lead in Spanish and Portuguese and plays the classical guitar, the Brazilian guitar (the "Cavaquinho") and leads the Brazilian percussion. On the keyboards, Cuban guitar (the "Tres") and lead English vocals is Dante Thomas. On congas and percussion is the mighty Paul Lopez.

Since forming in 1997, Agua Dulce has performed all over the world (France, Holland, even Iceland) and is currently on tour in the Western U.S. promoting their new self-produced CD, Searching For Juana.

Come see. Come feel. Come dance.

Northwest Winterfest @ Spokane County Fair & Expo Center

Fridays, 5-8 p.m., Saturdays, 4-8 p.m. and Sundays, 3-6 p.m. Continues through Jan. 1
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