Sunday, October 7, 2007

Los Dementes - El Tiempo Pasa, Pero Mi Salsa Llego (Palacio)


This post has been a long time coming. It's time, at last, to dip into the forgotten origins of salsa outside of the United States.

Some of you may remember my comments about the origins of salsa in my El Cantante review, what one commenter called a "non-centrist" view of salsa. It is indeed a fact that salsa was not just a Nu-York creation. In the late 60s, many Latin American communities were collaborating in a world-wide vision of salsa that, despite being just as fresh and innovative as Nuyorican salsa, would be hidden behind the Fania logo. This is not to say that Nuyorican salsa was inadequate, or subpar (after all, I did a massive upload of the Hector Lavoe & Willie Colon discography); I'm simply pointing out that the American account of salsa is a biased one. In the process, we, the fans of Latin music, have missed out on some incredible music. Today's post is a small attempt to change that.

Enter Venezuela, circa 1966. For years, radio waves from as far away as Spain, Mexico, and Puerto Rico have been criss-crossing the streets of Caracas, planting rebellious seeds of Latin music into the minds of its youth. Among them: Federico Betancourt, Olinto Medina, Oscar Simoza, and Ramon Rivas. You might know them better by the names of their bands: Federico y su Combo Latino, Sexteto Juventud, Oscar D'Leon, and today's featured artist, pianist Ray Perez.

These are just some of the creative minds who would establish a flourishing salsa scene that was just as hard-hitting and unprecedented as anything that the streets of New York were putting out. Influenced by the aguinaldos of Venezuela, the seis of Puerto Rico, and the music of Mon Rivera, Ray Perez would begin his salsa career (though it was not called salsa then) in 1965 with Ray Perez y su Charanga, an early incarnation of the band featured today, Los Dementes (the crazy men). Ray, nicknamed "El Loco" (the crazy man), originally wanted to title the band Los Dementes, but such a name would have sparked a riot in those days. Rather than let his band name set people off, he did it with his music. With a peerless melding of folk traditions and new experimentation, Perez began writing some of Venezuela's most furious music, an incendiary brand of salsa with heavy trombones as its centerpiece. The first Los Dementes album was released in 1966 (Ray Perez claims the year as 1966; other accounts claim the year as 1967).

By now, you might be noticing the glaring similarities between Ray Perez and Willie Colon's respective forgings of salsa. Both were influenced by Mon Rivera; both were raised on the folk forms of their culture; both would incorporate this into their music while attempting a new, groundbreaking sound; both were recognized in rebellious ways (Colon had a reputation for being a tough kid, presumably informing his gangster marketing image for Fania; Ray Perez was dubbed El Loco for coming up with new things); both created a music that was culled from their streets (as Ray Perez put it, the barrios of Caracas are "like Brooklyn, or the Bronx."); and both released their first albums at about the same time. This is not to say that Perez and Colon are similar people, or that Nuyorican salsa and Venezuelan salsa are the same--the two movements are distinct and have their own legacy, and I cannot even pretend to know the nuances of each. But they share a trope that is central to much of the music that history remembers best: they dared to try something truly new.

And yet, history hasn't recognized Ray's accomplishments as well as they have Colon's. Los Dementes would become a tour de force in Venezuela and abroad, earning Ray fame in Mexico and even Italy. A driven artist, he would also form myriad bands such as Los Calvos and Los Kenya. At clubs around Venezuela, he would share the honor of alternating the stage with greats such as Eddie Palmieri, Joe Cuba, Pete Rodriguez, and Ray Barretto. Barretto once joked to Perez, then called Ramon, that the era of the kings was coming to an end (the Spanish word for king is rey, which is pronounced the same as "Ray"). It would be fitting, then, when in a seemingly inevitable move, Perez relocated to New York in 1969 and was dubbed Ray himself.

In New York, he would play with Kako, Chivirico Davila, Cortijo, and Ismael Rivera. As if to cement the similarities between Venezuela and New York's thriving salsa scenes, Los Dementes would later record for Fania.

El Tiempo Pasa, Pero Mi Salsa Llego, loosely translated as "Time passes, but my salsa is here now," is a fitting name for a retrospective of the work of Los Dementes, released only last year. It's a fortunate glimpse for those of us who don't have the $200 to shell out for a single Ray Perez-related LP (if we can even find one). Much like my personal favorite group Conjunto Canayon, you can distinctly hear folk music underpinning the Los Dementes sound, but the gritty trombones and frantic vocalizing of great singers such as Perucho and Teo Hernandez launch their music into an unmistakably modern timbre. Some of my favorites include the compilation opener, Vengo de Oriente; the truly CLASSIC La Llorona, with its haunting, reverberting plucks of cuatro (or is that violin?) and powerful performance by Teo; the fun, Vitin Aviles-esque El Perico; Justo Brito y Juan Tabare; and Cosas Que Pasan. But, as is the case with any well-put together compilation, picking favorites proves pointless. Grab it and see for yourself.

Get it here

As a testament to his legacy, Ray Perez appeared in a club in Italy last week as part of a well-attended tribute to his music. Check out some footage of the event:



And while we're hitting up Ray Perez videos, here's a much later incarnation of Los Dementes in a hilarious TV performance that is aaaaaalllllll 80s.



Also, check out an excellent Descarga interview with the man himself.

And don't forget to check back soon, when I'll be uploading another gem from the early days of Venezuelan salsa.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Orquesta La Terrifica - Terrifica (International, 1974)

Ready for more salsa brava in the vein of Orquesta Guarare? Get your hair did for dancing, because this album is hot.

Much like the rather confusing Ray Barretto split that gave rise to Orquesta Guarare, Orquesta La Terrifica splintered off from Sonora Poncena in 1973, one of the most famous groups to ever come out of Puerto Rico. When I say that La Terrifica sounds like Guarare, there's good reason: La Terrifica's early albums featured vocalist Tito Gomez, who sang for Orquesta Guarare and Ray Barretto and just recently passed away. The members defected with leader and Sonora Poncena trumpeter Jose Rodriguez; other members included Mikey Ortiz (timbales), Francisco Alvarado (bongos), and Tito Valentin (arrangements). Later veterans of La Terrifica would include famous arranger Jorge Millet (piano), Hector "Pichie" Perez (vocals), Yolanda Rivera (vocals), Manuel "Mannix" Martinez (vocals), and Hector Tricoche (vocals). I haven't been able to confirm this, but according to this site, Hector Lavoe himself helped out on coro during live shows in 1974, alongside vocalists Yayo and Adalberto Santiago.


Despite never being as popular as Sonora Poncena, La Terrifica put out some of the best salsa of their era and, thankfully, their devoted fans haven't forgotten them. A number of Orquesta La Terrifica albums have been reissued over the past few years (most famously, their self-titled was re-released in 2002, sporting their biggest Jorge Millet hit, Pura). To my knowledge, Terrifica, their first album, has never been re-issued.

From the first taste of Jose Rodriguez's horn lines on Acere Trumbero, you know you're in salsa heaven. The penchant for hard-edged salsa on Terrifica overshadows their former (and slightly more complex) Sonora Poncena sound. Tito Gomez and his coro do an excellent job here on cuts such as Hachero Mayor and the gorgeous bolero No Te Vayas Juventud, a poignant lament that finds Gomez begging his personified youth to "stay just a little longer." And for all of you from Ponce, PR, prepare to reminisce about la famosa Guancha with the fourth cut. Other tracks like Comedia and Vicente Camaron keep it upbeat, and Biribo is an incredible closer and my favorite on the album.

Solid from start to end! Enjoy!

Note: Divshare has been experiencing random outages, so if the link below doesn't work, try again a little later.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Monguito - Escuchame (Fania, 1971)


The Cuban-born sonero Monguito is an often overlooked treasure in the extensive Fania catalog. Sporting one of the most recognizable voices in all of Latin music, Monguito aka Ramon Quian aka "El Unico" (The Unique One/The Only One, as he is nicknamed) sounds somewhat like the musical result of pinching Ismael Rivera's nose shut with a clothespin. It's not exactly the most flattering description, but not one meant to imply that Monguito is ever annoying. On the contrary, Monguito's voice is surprisingly satisfying. Much like Rivera, he embodies an earthy, pragmatic aesthetic in the tradition of the son montuno, forged in the streets of Cuba. Monguito also shows an excellent pedigree. His voice and acclaimed improvisational skills first appeared on Arsenio Rodriguez's Primitivo in 1963; he would go on to sing in the bands of Johnny Pacheco, Larry Harlow, and the Tico All-Stars, in addition to producing a string of solid cuts on the Fania label.

If you're at all in doubt as to the power of Monguito's voice, check out Lindo Guaguanco, a hot tune that finds a brazen Monguito playfully wondering if anyone can sing a guaguanco better than him. Monguito's voice is also surprisingly flexible and is easily at home on boleros such as El Ano 2000. You'll also find slight hints of charanga on No Hay Amor Sin Caridad, in addition to Monguito's humorous pontificating on the fairer sex on Las Mujeres (Women). Escuchame is an excellent melding of the street wisdom of son montuno with tinges of the polished Fania sound.

Get it here

More info on Monguito courtesy of the fine folks over at Descarga here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Hector Lavoe, tu es eterno"

Still working on the next music update, but I wanted to hip you all to a couple of aftershocks in the world of El Cantante.

Willie Colon himself has had a few words to say about the film. Taken from his official website (and much thanks to La Onda Tropical for spreading the word):

The Creators of El Cantante missed an opportunity to do something of relevance for our community. The real story was about Hector fighting the obstacles of a non-supportive industry that took advantage of entertainers with his charisma and talent. Instead they did another movie about two Puerto Rican junkies. The impact of drugs in the entertainment industry is nothing new; look at Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Whitney Houston today.

I think Hector deserves the recognition the movie pretended to give him. However, as someone who advised the producers, it's painfully obvious that they didn't understand what made him so important. It was the music. It was his talent. They didn't understand or respect the true importance of our music to people around the world. It's difficult to comprehend how two individuals who are in the music business like Marc and Jennifer are not aware of the damage and the consequences of promoting only the negative side of our Latin music culture.

I was disappointed that there wasn't a minimal effort to correct what I felt were serious chronological and factual errors. This tells me that they expeditiously crafted the simplest cliché script in order to just make a film quickly.

After the premier of El Cantante in Puerto Rico there were several statements of protest by people who had supported and participated in the project until they saw it. Their complaints were not about sour grapes or J-lo and Marc bashing but from a sense of betrayal and disappointment.

We are all invested in the world that this movie represents. For many of us the hope of our story finally being told sank into the horizon with the final version of this film.

--Willie Colón


Ismael Miranda and Jennifer Lopez have had their say as well.

...and so have other fellow bloggers.

Though certainly authoritative, these voices are but a few of many being heard after the film's review, and I'd like to remind everyone who reads this that there have been numerous reactions to El Cantante beyond simple film criticism (including my own). Some, like Colon, consider it a scar on the history of Latin music in the United States; others consider it a worthy testament to a cultural and historical period that deserves attention. At the risk of implicating myself in what seems to be a rather heated debate (admittedly one that I really have no kind of authority to speak about), I would like to make an observation.

While I was cobbling the Lavoe discography together, I spent a lot amount of time revisiting the Lavoe I heard growing up as a child, and eagerly discovering the many corners of his discography that I'd never heard before. Even as I write this, the string ruminations and trumpet's herald of the epic El Cantante blares in my ears. Perhaps you, too, decided to throw on an old Colon/Lavoe record that you haven't spun for a while; or, if the music of salsa was new to you, you found your hips moving in ways never before attempted, your head nodding to the soul of la clave. Through all of this, our ears have heard a lot of mudslinging, but we've also heard something much more enduring and sublime that withstands the debates and cultural politics. Seriously guys, this is timeless music, and it's my opinion as the "lowest" among all critics--a fan--that there is no better way to hear the story of Hector Lavoe than how he told it himself: as un cantante, as a singer. Before long, this debate will be tidily filed away and forgotten. Will your Hector Lavoe records, CDs, mp3s, suffer the same fate? I trust that if you're here, they won't. Like Chapin over at La Onda Tropical recommends:

"Forget the movie, and go discover the music of Hector Lavoe, Willie Colón,
Ruben Bladés
and all other Fania stars."

I'll admit, there were moments where I became more caught up in the frenzy of El Cantante than in the music of the real Cantante. I've come around. I'm going to keep on with Hector Lavoe the musician, not "Hector Lavoe: The Debate." I think there's a reason why Ruben Blades made a musical clarion call for Latin solidarity on the seminal Colon/Blades album Siembra, as have countless artists before: because there is a kind of unity that you can find in art and creativity. Toward oneness with music; toward music with oneness.

What can I say, my soap comes in big boxes.

To close this, check out a hip poem by a messenger of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, courtesy of Lil' Mike's Last Known Thoughts And Random Revelations.

Willie Perdomo - The Day That Hector Lavoe Died



Sunday, September 9, 2007

Still alive, and now a Metro-Rican


Hey guys, sorry for the dearth of posts in here, I've been busy moving and adjusting to a new place and school. I now call Washington, D.C. my home, and I'm reaping the benefits of living in a (bigger) city. Case in point: this weekend, I'm seeing Willie Colon AND Eddie Palmieri, so stay tuned for pictures and reviews.

And don't think that the music has disappeared. I've spent much of the past month listening to a lot of new and excellent stuff, and I'm certainly going to pass it on to all of you. That being said, I have a much busier schedule now, which means a few changes to this blog are forthcoming. I've always tried to make this blog more than just a mere depository for mp3s by adding background information, anecdotes, and opinions, hoping to bring the music to life for novice and veteran listeners alike. However, this requires a lot of time and research (a single album post can take 2-3 hours), and I just don't have that kind of time anymore. Letting this blog bite the dust, however, is even less of an option.

This means that I can either 1) make my posts more sparse, but with the same quality of information and depth as my past posts, or I can 2) make more frequent posts but with little to no embellishment. Granted, I haven't been so hot with updating regularly as of late, but during the summer I was posting almost every day, or if not, every other day. I'm not sure whether or not I'll go with the more frequent, less quality posts or the less frequent, more quality posts, but if you guys have any preference, speak up. My decision will definitely hinge on what it is you guys appreciate (or don't appreciate) about this blog.

Regardless, stay tuned for music. The Sun of Latin Music lives!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Tempo 70 - El Primer LP (Mericana, 1972)


After all of the Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, and Fania, I feel it's time to head out of mainstream Latin into the used record bins for another rare treat, and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Tempo 70 is the brainchild of Argentinean pianist Bebu Silvetti, who in the early 70s relocated to Puerto Rico and put together the band featured today. Over the course of his life, he played everything from son montuno and guaguanco to Latin jazz to disco. In fact, he is most well known for his 1976 disco hit Spring Rain. Four years prior, however, Silvetti's Tempo 70 would experiment with Latin soul ballads, guaguanco, and a notoriously funky, though relatively unknown, hit on El Primer LP.

IMPORTANT: (Edited August 19) The information above has been disputed. A while ago a person claiming to be Silvia Silvetti, daughter of Bebu Silvetti, commented on this post saying that Bebu never lived in Puerto Rico and was never involved with Tempo 70. I attempted to contact this person via their email, sylviasilvetti@hotmail.com, and received an automated message saying that the email does not exist. About a week later, I received an email and more comments from that email address, with the message containing the following: "I'm not disputing that those songs are my father's, I was disputing the information that he NEVER lived in Puerto Rico and was not aware of that album. I know many albums were published without his knowledge." Previously, I claimed that this person was a fake internet identity. After being contacted again, I will admit that I am still skeptical as to the whether or not this person is legitimate after they emailed me, as a hotmail address can easily be created, and none of the things being said by this person are verifiable. That being said, it is certainly possible that Bebu wrote El Galleton and it was published/covered/stolen by another band without his permission. It is equally possible that it was otherwise. The person claiming to be Ms. Silvetti has their story; what follows is the evidence that supports another story. I cannot claim that either is right, I can only post it to keep everyone informed of the differing accounts. As always, I attempt to post as accurate information as possible, and in the event that the commenter actually is Sylvia Silvetti, then I would like to thank her for reading my blog and contributing to the information posted here.

What follows is the evidence supporting the Bebu Silvetti and Tempo 70 link: the picture below of the El Galleton single clearly displays Bebu's name, and I have a number of web sources claiming the involvement of Bebu Silvetti with Tempo 70:

http://www.prpop.org/noticias/dic05/mandy_vizoso_dic12.shtml
http://www.officenaps.com/2007/07/latin-funk.html
http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:jifixq8kldje
http://www.geocities.com/hotsprings/1392/SouthAmerica.html
And, furthermore, El Galleton was recently featured on a compilation entitled Nu Yorica! Culture Clash in New York City, and that compilation credits Silvetti as the man behind the song. A number of websites document this:
http://www.answers.com/topic/nu-yorica-culture-clash-in-new-york-city?cat=entertainment
http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/store/artist/album/0,,227993,00.html
http://www.mmguide.musicmatch.com/album/album.cgi?ALBUMID=976199
http://www.all-tv.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&searchlink=BEBU|SILVETTI&sql=11:dpfpxqrgldke~T4 If anyone has more information about this, feel free to contact me. Continue reading for the rest of the review.

To be fair: I am not a huge fan of El Primer LP as a whole album (read on before you write it off, though). The first time I threw it on I was greeted with an absolutely horrible bolero (ballad), and there is a somewhat unspoken code in Latin music that if an album kicks off with a bolero, you'd either better be on your guard or 70 years old. To some extent, the sagely advice proves correct: about half of the album is plagued with very poorly done boleros with a cantante whose awful, gaudy high notes betray his safer swimming in shallower registers.

On the other hand, the rest of the album is filled with upbeat, roots-based tunes. El Charlatan has the dynamics of Ismael Rivera's Cachimbos (aka Cortijo's band during a particular period in their stint with Rivera), and the singer performs much better here. La Pequita de Paquita features some excellent Eddie Palmieri-esque piano work.

The real gem of the album--and what makes buying the whole LP worthwhile....that is, if you can find it--is El Galleton, a much drooled-over 45 that turns both Latin and soul-heads alike. El Galleton plays more like a night at the Apollo than son montuno. The song begins with some excellent descarga on the bongos, and then a rather silly call-and-response verse comes in where the band orders you to Juntale la manteca a'l galleton (Slap the butter on the cracker). The e song breaks down as they switch to pondering the philosophical difference between una galleta (a cracker) and un galleton (a &!*%&# huge cracker--the use of -on at the end of a Spanish word is somewhat, though not exactly, akin to the English superlative, much like changing "funky" to "funkiest," where the -est means "most or very funky"). Before you know it, a surge of organ feedback has washed over you and you're suddenly being chased by the fuzz across Spanish Harlem's 110th in a Latin-ised blaxploitation film. Even the church organs cut through the addictive horn lines to make you get up and dance.

In the interest of flexibility, I've given you two options. You can listen to and download El Galleton as if it were a 7" single, or y0u can download the entire album. Both are available. I'm only presenting the option because I personally listen to El Galleton much more than I do the entire album, and I wouldn't force an album on anyone just for only one song. That being said, I still think that El Primer LP is worth checking out, and it's so rare that you'll be one of the few ears to have ever heard it. As long as you just skip past the boleros (or slow-dance to them with your old lady, if that's your thing), you'll find some good cuts worth your time.

Picture taken from Office Naps


Listen to El Galleton

Saturday, August 4, 2007

El Cantante (2007) Review

With all the fuss I've raised over El Cantante (including uploading the entire Hector Lavoe discography), you can bet I was there opening day to revel in the glory of seeing Hector Lavoe's life adapted to the big screen. So what did I think? A very haphazardly put together review follows. If you don't want spoilers, or just can't stomach strong opinion, then don't read it!

In short: what a terrible disappointment.

It's almost difficult to know where I should begin, but I would like to get one thing straight. I want everyone who reads this blog to know that, contrary to what the film implies and a number of people are saying, Hector Lavoe did NOT create salsa music. The line in the film where Johnny Pacheco (played by Nelson Vazquez) painfully delivers lines claiming that Lavoe & Colon mixed "mambo, merengue, jazz" into a "sauce like gumbo" and dubbed it salsa is outright false, and a gross mistake on the part of everyone involved in the making of the film. Though certainly instrumental in popularizing it, Lavoe was one of numerous poster children for the music at the height of its popularity, not its creator. The origins of salsa as a music are heavily disputed. Its earliest use dates as far back as the 1920s with the Cuban son of Ignacio Pineiro, and artists such as the Venezuelan Federico y Su Combo, the Puerto Ricans Charlie Palmieri, Pupi Legarreta, and Joe Cuba all released album utilizing the word salsa long before Colon and Lavoe began their career with 1967's El Malo. In truth, salsa is a Latin hybrid drawing from the musical traditions of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and a host of other Latin countries. Cuba, Panama, Colombia and many more all had thriving salsa scenes that rivaled that of Fania, but simply did not have a place in American consciousness to lay claim to salsa music. So, for us over here in the states, whether gringo or even Nuyorican, salsa may seem to have been born in this country, but it was not. To say that Hector Lavoe or even Willie Colon and the Fania label were the architects behind this music would be as erroneous as claiming that Miles Davis invented jazz, or that Led Zeppelin invented rock n' roll. It's simply not true. A useful distinction that I make is in referring to the Fania scene as Nuyorican salsa, rather than simply salsa. This acknowledges that, in its tenure in New York City, salsa took on a new sound with refined instrumentation and production values that made it distinct from other forms of salsa. But the only and original form of salsa it is not.

A few other inaccuracies plagued the movie as well. Some question whether or not Puchi (Hector's wife played by Jennifer Lopez) was as important in Hector's life as El Cantante claims it to be. Furthermore, not only was the reference to the origins of the hit song El Cantante unconvincing, but the story is, by many accounts, false. The movie portrays Ruben Blades taking the stage with an acoustic guitar, and giving Hector, who is in the audience, as a gift, a new song that he had written. Considering that Blades ranks as one of the best singers in all of Latin music, it's rather unfortunate that the actor playing him could barely carry a true note. Moreover, the actual story of the song was one of enormous tension. Blades originally wanted to record the song himself, and some accounts say that Colon convinced him to reluctantly give it to Lavoe. Though afterwards Blades acknowledged that Lavoe did a better job with the song than he ever could have, the real-life account is still one of dispute, rather than that of the film in which a wide-eyed, naive Blades dedicates a song to a man whom he claims a childhood hero (which, in some ways, does not make chronological sense).

Having seen director Leon Ichaso's previous biopic Pinero, and being sorely disappointed at the hectic and overwrought cinematography and schizophrenic pacing in that movie, I should have anticipated those same aesthetic aches in the Lavoe film, but did not. Unfortunately, they are all there. Ichaso's pointillist, hurried glimpses of virtually every angle in a room or scene is a tried and true case of using far too much to say far too little. The film runs the chronological gamut of over thirty years, but Ichaso saw fit to make it seem as though a contextually-undefined, ten minute snapshot of Hector Lavoe's life every five or so years could paint an accurate and satisfying picture of the artist's career. Riding the Lavoe timeline with Ichaso at the helm is akin to a nauseating roller coaster. The plot only surfaces in fits, jumps, and starts, with no real sense of pacing in an attempt to make Lavoe's out-of-control lifestyle appear vibrant. To that effect, the film only falls into cliches, haphazardly using blurred scenes of Lavoe with a needle in his arm to say something about Hector's character.

The portrayal of Hector Lavoe (as played by Marc Anthony) truly amounted to something as the film began, but had altogether vanished by its mid-point. Numerous accounts describe Hector as the most humble, good-natured man that one could ever meet, and Anthony surprisingly nailed that aspect during Lavoe's rise to fame. The initial romance between Puchi and Lavoe is charming, and Lavoe's lines witty without being overbearing. One of my favorite moments in the movie involves Lavoe on tour, after a show with a beer in hand, innocently following Willie Colon and his current female companion towards Colon's room. When Colon forcefully shuts the door behind for some privacy, thereby locking Lavoe out, Anthony produces the most perfect, awkward pause and unassuming saunter back to his room. Small details like this reeled me into Lavoe's character as the movie began, but as the sex-drugs-salsa kicks in, Anthony began portraying a completely different, aggressive character with no real impetus behind the change. Perhaps even more important, Ichaso places no substance behind Hector's depression and his battle with drugs. Throughout the movie, his faults are taken at face value with no apparent need for explanation. The result is a character who seems as unexplainable to audience members as he is to the actor impersonating him.

Hector's wife Puchi has been heralded by many as the role that Jennifer Lopez was born to play. In some ways, this is absolutely correct, as Lopez's interpretation crackles with raw energy. That energy, however, is ultimately without direction, as Lopez fails to differentiate Puchi as anything other than plot-line filler. Yes, Lopez has done a terrific job of displaying a very heated Nuyoricena, but the problem is that Puchi is not simply that. What makes Puchi Puchi, as opposed to a stereotype of an aggressive wife of a musical superstar, is completely lost in the fray.


The musical performances of Hector Lavoe, on the other hand, are vibrant, and I certainly have to commend Anthony for an excellent impression of Lavoe on stage. Anthony copies Lavoe's inflections while still retaining the signature timbre of his voice, and even nails many of Lavoe's live mannerisms such as cradling the bottom-most section of the microphone. The music was a welcome aside from the virtual strobe-lighting of the rest of the film.

In that vein, it seems that "the music was great" is about all that I can say after seeing El Cantante. I would have derived a more enjoyable experience from seeing Anthony impersonate Lavoe on stage for nearly two hours. I suppose that after this disappointment, at the very least I do have the Lavoe records to come back to. El Cantante plays much better as a soundtrack than as a film.

But, it's easy to be a critic, no? I highly recommend that you see the movie for yourself, and I encourage disagreement in the comments. I wanted to walk out of the theater raving about the movie because I had placed a lot of weight in seeing a person so obscure to those around me--yet vital to my family, my culture, and myself--receive some due recognition. I will admit, in closing, that a large part of my review may very well derive from the the disappointment felt after having placed such importance on this film for so long.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Hector Lavoe Discography

4/30/2008: IMPORTANT MESSAGE: I've noticed some people are still downloading these Lavoe albums, which is more than fine by me. But, there are a number of comments of people asking me to reupload the albums.
1) The problem isn't that the links are down, but that Divshare sets a monthly downloading limit of 50gb. Once, this limit is reached, no more downloads can happen until it resets at the end of the month. I don't have time to move the albums over to another host, so there's not much I can do about it. Generally, the downloads reset the 5th of every month. Just be patient, and also be considerate: if you're just downloading Lavoe albums to let them gather dust, then consider tapering your downloads to let some other people get a chance.
2) It's come to my attention that the Day 4 albums are actually down. I'll try to get these up when I get a chance.
Enjoy!


No doubt many of you have heard about the biopic El Cantante, a film about the life of the legendary Puerto Rican salsa singer Hector Lavoe, starring Marc Anthony as the man himself and Jennifer Lopez as his wife Puchi aka Nilda Rosado. Directed by Leon Ichaso (who is no stranger to biographical films about controversial Puerto Rican artists, such as Miguel Pinero), the film is, I am very proud to say, a creation of the Latino community, as much of a Latin thing as the music it will no doubt feature. Trailer below.



Admittedly, I don't expect much from a big-budget film starring Anthony or Lopez. It's simply not my taste. However, the fact that a film is being made about an icon who is virtually unknown outside of Latino communities is astounding. Ask yourself: how many people walking down the street have ever heard of Hector Lavoe? Very few. While I would like to see the life of Hector Lavoe receive a more astute perspective with more artistic integrity, I am still happy to see even the Hollywood giants turning their heads and nodding to Puerto Rican culture. I remember being in Puerto Rico right after the "Puerto Rican invasion" of Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, etc., and hearing the same consensus: it may not be the best, but Puerto Rico is a rich culture and something to be proud of, so the exposure counts for something. That being said, El Cantate has garnered my support, and you can be sure I'll be in theaters on opening day, August 3.

In anticipation of the Hector Lavoe fad that will no doubt precipitate in the wake of El Cantante, I present to you all, in a series of posts, the entire accessible Hector Lavoe discography. While Lavoe did earlier work with artists such as the Kako All-Stars and Johnny Pacheco, I will begin with his tenure as the singer of Willie Colon's band in 1967, his first real break and the most appropriate departure point for contextualizing Hector Lavoe as he will be seen in El Cantante. Inevitably, this means that these posts will be, in part, a sampling of the Willie Colon discography as well. Posts will be chronological, and at least one installment will be uploaded per day as edits to this same post. Because Hector Lavoe is one of the more well known Latin artists I've featured on my blog and information about him is readily available, I'll be keeping biographical information to a minimum. By August 3, the entire discography will be posted. Be sure to check back often.

Day 1:

Willie Colon - El Malo (Fania, 1967)


Hector Lavoe was introduced to Willie Colon by the latter's Fania labelmate Johnny Pacheco. Because Pacheco already had a singer in Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez, he urged Willie Colon to give Hector Lavoe a shot. The result was the humble beginning of one of the greatest salsa duos in history. On El Malo, Colon & Lavoe still hold on to the boogaloo and Latin soul sound so popular at the time, though you can hear hints of their later salsa style breaking through. A great album, and even more astounding when you consider that Colon is only 17 years old, and his band (including Lavoe) are mostly teenagers. As rebellious in its day as Charlie Parker was in his.


Willie Colon - The Hustler (Fania, 1968)


Hector steps up to become main vocalist on Colon's second album. The production is a little rough, but you can really hear Colon feeling out his trombone lines with a raw, edgy tone. Hector Lavoe recalls the style of Ismael Rivera on Eso Se Baila Asi, and gives a solid performance with Que Lio, as if anticipating his hit song El Cantante.

Get it here

Day 2:

Willie Colon - Guisando (Fania, 1969)


The addition of black pianist Mark Diamond adds a new side to Willie Colon's raucous third album. This also adds a rather sketchy dimension to the name of the fifth cut (I Wish I Had A Watermelon), but Diamond nonetheless puts forth some smokin' piano with gritty Colon trombone to match. The slowed-down and dirty No Me Den Candela is one of my favorites in all of Colon's discography, featuring some great energy from Lavoe. Colon considers this album cover to be his second favorite, and certainly continues the gangster image that made him both hugely controversial and a huge hit.

Get it here

Willie Colon - Cosa Nuestra (Fania, 1969)


Crucial Colon! Released the same year as Guisando, many consider Cosa Nuestra to be his first real masterpiece, and with good reason. Pretty much every song on here is a hit, and some of the songs have become colloquial phrases among us Puerto Ricans, such as "te conozco bacalao," as if to slyly say "I know you, I know what you're up to, I know you better than that." Ausencia was one of my first exposures to Hector Lavoe, and remains a favorite to this day, a gripping lament with a powerful breakdown and vocal performance. Essential Latin music for beginners and veterans alike!


Day 3:

Willie Colon - La Gran Fuga (Fania, 1970)


Certainly Colon's most versatile work thus far, La Gran Fuga continues to develop the salsa sound while throwing in some unpredictable (and fun) nuggets. Growing up, I clearly remember hearing family members throwing out the "I-ata, ay yo yo" chant of the first cut, based on an African children's lullaby. Pa' Colombia and Barrunto are classics in the by now clearly emerging Colon style, and Abuelita features a hot breakdown that consumes almost half of the song. As always, Hector Lavoe continues to shine. Excellent stuff, and a great follow up to the classic Cosa Nuestra.


Willie Colon - Asalto Navideno (Fania, 1971)


While most artists these days release Christmas albums that trip over their own gimmicks, in 1971 Colon released a holiday scorcher that would prove essential in his discography. It's not Christmas in a Puerto Rican household if you're not blasting this album. Just listen to the epic introduction and you know you're listening to something special. It features what may very well be Colon's biggest hit, La Murga, a catchy, furious trombone romp through the world of Panamanian dance. In keeping with the tradition of Puerto Rican Christmas music, the album is heavily tinged with jibaro (Puerto Rican folk music), thanks to Yomo Toro on the four-stringed cuatro. This is Yomo Toro's first outing with Colon, and would prove a major launching point for his career. Lavoe belts out a gorgeous ode to his native island in Canto A Borinquen, utilizing a very traditional form of lyrical verse, almost as distinct to the Puerto Rican ear as a limerick. Similarly, Esta Navidad kicks off with an equally traditional cuatro riff. I can't mention Asalto without mentioning the closer, Vive Tu Vida Contento, a song of humorously crude, but simple advice within an unforgettable chorus. Roughly translated, it states: Live your life content; that is how you'll live well; because if you rush through life you'll die but if you stay put, you'll still die. I can't emphasize enough how so many of these songs have become a part of the Puerto Rican consciousness; in our parrandas (somewhat like Christmas caroling), we sing older Christmas jibaros in the same breath as these Colon classics. Full of many great memories, I hope this album becomes as timeless for you as it has been for me. And no matter your nationality, don't be afraid to play it loud at Christmas time.


Day 4:

Willie Colon - El Juicio (Fania, 1972)


To me, El Juicio is a continuation of the previous year's La Gran Fuga--a collection of songs that explore new Colon territory anchored by solid salsa hits. The almost goofy Ah-Ah O-No, the santeria-tinged Aguanile, or the jazzy, slow tempo closer Pan y Agua find Colon and Lavoe stretching beyond their salsa repertoire. Nonetheless, they always come back to the salsa and horn lines with hits like Pirana and the extended Timbalero. You'll hear Lavoe say "Para ti (for you) motherflower" on Sonando Despierto, referencing an altercation in a nightclub where Lavoe's at times unprofessional, clown-like stage presence put him on the bad side of an audience member who requested a danza. When Hector not only refused but proceeded to make the fan a victim of some not-well-taken sarcasm, the fan assaulted Lavoe and nearly sent him to the hospital. The "para ti motherflower" line (the last word being an obvious cover up for the more vulgar version) prefaces a danza section written into the song at the last minute, and is a sarcastic dedication to the violent fan. Not as impressive as La Gran Fuga, but very much worth your attention.

Get it here

Willie Colon - Asalto Navideno Vol. 2 (Fania, 1972)


On the heels of the first Asalto Navideno, Colon and Lavoe put out another Christmas album the following year. Unfortunately, it lacked the hits of the first Asalto, and somewhat fell flat on its face. Still, the album is full of Christmas energy and once again features Yomo Toro's cuatro skills. Check out the furious La Banda (in a sense the cousin of La Murga), or the upbeat rendition of a lyrically plaintive Christmas classic, Arbolito. Sure to get any parranda going.


Day 5:

Willie Colon - Lo Mato (Fania, 1973)


Featuring Colon's most infamous cover, this album is fully titled Lo Mato....Si No Compras Este LP (I'll kill him.....if you don't buy this LP). Not that Colon was getting desperate, as the cover/title are just a humorous extension of the gangster image that had followed him since his earliest albums. In spite of Asalto 2's commercial failure, Colon was still riding a wave of new found creativity and fame and you can really hear it on this album. The arrangements and production are his sharpest yet. Calle Luna Calle Sol has the quality of his later work with Ruben Blades, particularly on Canciones Del Solar De Los Aburridos. As always, the dual-trombone assault leads a number of classic jams such as Todo Tiene Su Final and the slowed-down Senora Lola. There's always room for folk forms as well, on Guajira Ven or one of my favorites, the upbeat El Dia De Mi Suerte, which finds Lavoe at his peak. Lavoe has truly settled in as a front man by this point, and this album finds him at his most natural and energetic yet. Great stuff.

Get it here

Willie Colon - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Fania, 1975)


Much like on La Gran Fuga or El Juicio, Colon is trying out a new set of tricks on The Good, only this time the experimentation is even greater in scope. New production values, a host of new styles from rock to bossa nova, and Colon, who went on a year long hiatus (some say because he was getting tired of being artistically constrained) takes over main vocal duties and nearly removes the two-trombone sound altogether. Ruben Blades makes his first appearance with Colon on El Cazanguero, a heavy-handed and rather unimpressive debut before becoming main vocalist. The album is also Colon's most jibaro since the first Asalto, with Yomo Toro playing at his best. That being said, it can be an unsettling listen if you only swear by Cosa Nuestra or Asalto Navideno Vol. 1, but still very rewarding to the open ear. You can still find Lavoe on the classic jibaro Que Bien Te Ves, where he uses an excellent style of inflection to better portray the lament of the jibaro, thus showcasing his talent and versatility. This album, however, would be Lavoe's last with Colon until their reunion on 1983's Vigilante. For all intents and purposes, Lavoe is by this point beginning his solo career. The rest of the uploads will chronicle Lavoe as frontman.

Get it here

Day 6:

Hector Lavoe - La Voz [Fania, 1975]

Admittedly the nerdiest looking cover in all of Latin music.....

Lavoe's solo debut was named after the title of his idol Felipe Rodriguez, which Lavoe's manager had suggested he shorten to "Lavoe" for his stage name. La Voz is to Lavoe's career what Cosa Nuestra was for Colon: a solid, early work that set him apart from all of his contemporaries. That being said, Lavoe was certainly still part of the Colon camp and the two remained great friends amidst rumors of a heated dispute. In fact, Colon had pretty much given Lavoe his band, and Colon and Fania labelmate Johnny Pacheco are responsible for some of the cuts on the album. With Colon's talented orchestra backing up a reinvigorated Lavoe, La Voz is one of his best. Stellar performances abound on classics like El Todopoderoso, a starkly religious ode and lyrical anomaly in his career. It's my suspicion that Lavoe and Colon penned the song to combat Lavoe's bad boy image as a womanizer and drug addict, though this is entirely unfounded. Other hits include Rompe Saraguey and Mi Gente, a complex survey of his people that predated Ruben Blades's more well-known call for Latin unity on Siembra. A fantastic debut for Lavoe.

Get it here

Hector Lavoe - De Ti Depende [Fania, 1976]


De Ti Depende features one of Lavoe's biggest hits, Periodico de Ayer, penned by Tite Curet Alonso. This biting indictment of a former lover stayed at the number one spot on Mexican charts for a full four months, and features some of the best string arrangements ever done on a Lavoe tune. Lyrically, it's one of my favorite Lavoe songs.

Tu amor es un periódico de ayer
(Your love is like yesterday's newspaper)
que nadie más procura ya leer
(that no one bothers to read anymore)
sensacional cuando salió en la madrugada
(sensational when it hits the presses at dawn)
a mediodía ya noticia confirmada
(well-known by mid-day)
y en la tarde materia olvidada.
(and forgotten at dusk)

Hacha y Machete is another excellent tune with strong arrangements and a great chorus. Cheo Feliciano and Felipe Pirela had already done versions of the title track, with no success. It took Lavoe to breathe new life into the song and make it a hit. Overall, another fantastic solo outing from Lavoe with Colon and Blades helping him out on choro.

Get it here

Day 7:

Hector Lavoe - Comedia (Fania, 1978)


Comedia features the quintessential El Cantante, a title that would become the source of his nickname, "El Cantante de Los Cantantes" (the singer of singers; taken in the same sense as "king of kings"), and of course serves as the inspiration for the title of the Marc Anthony/J-Lo biopic. The epic, 10-minute opus ranks among his best with lush string arrangements set in a minor mood, which, for Latin music in general, is rare and rather experimental. The song was originally written by Ruben Blades, who allegedly wanted to perform the song himself. However, after it became a signature Lavoe hit, Blades acknowledged that Lavoe did a much better job with it than he ever could have. Other excellent songs include the La Verdad, with an excellent rhythm section and very subtle organ flourishes; Tiempos Pasados, a samba-based tune with lyrics sung in a quasi-bolero style; and Songoroconsongo, a Nicolas Guillen poem set to music. Bandoleras is another controversial Lavoe hit due to its explicit threats of violence towards women, and had many Puerto Rican feminists up in arms (I am both Puerto Rican and a feminist and admittedly find the lyrical content a little disturbing, though I ultimately separate art from politics and so I don't discourage listening to it). Essential Lavoe.

Get it here

Hector Lavoe - Recordando a Felipe Pirela (Fania, 1979)

Hector's tribute to his idol, Venezuelan vocalist Felipe Pirela, the "Bolerista de America" who had moved from Venezuela to Columbia to Mexico and finally to Puerto Rico, where he was murdered in 1972. Pirela is recognized as one othe great Venezuelan voices, and here Lavoe interprets some of his most famous works. Solid stuff.

Day 8:

Hector Lavoe - Feliz Navidad (Fania, 1979)


Hector gives the Fania Christmas album a shot, and brings in Yomo Toro and Santos Colon for some seriously solid jibaro. Almost as much a comedy album as a Christmas album, Feliz Navidad features Lavoe impersonating certain groups of gringos (Americans) as they try to speak, talk, and act like they are Puerto Rican/Nuyorican (at times done with arguably racist tones). The very distinct Spanish-with-a-gringo-dialect has since become a light-hearted, national joke.

Get it here

Hector Lavoe - El Sabio (Fania, 1980)


Another excellent Lavoe album! The fantastic opener and titled track pretty much says everything about what's in store. Noche de Farra even nods to charanga! The production here is very much rivaling that of the Colon/Blades duo akin to their seminal Siembra (Alejate is a perfect example).

Get it here

Hector Lavoe - Que Sentimiento (Fania, 1981)


By this point, you'll be marveling at Lavoe's ability to put out consistently quality albums, and even without Colon contributing any production, arrangements, or songwriting. The closer, No Hay Quien Te Aguante, is one of my Lavoe favorites. Que Sentimiento features Lavoe's best production values yet, a mixture of quality engineering without falling into the trap of overproduced, heavily synthesized 80s salsa, a very welcome breath of fresh air to contrast what his replacement with Colon, Ruben Blades, was doing with the 80s sound by this point.

Get it here

Willie Colon & Hector Lavoe - Vigilante (Fania, 1983)


Though Colon has contributed in some way to many of Lavoe's solo albums, it wasn't until Vigilante that the duo made their official return with Lavoe once again bestowing his talented crooning to Colon's band. You'll notice something right away: only four songs. Indeed, the songs here tend to be flowing romps than simple hits, and the title track is an incredibly experimental opus (even for Colon) that you'll either love or hate. That being said, everything else here harkens right back to the old Lavoe & Colon days, so it's quite a triumphant reunion!

Get it here

Hector Lavoe - Revento (Fania, 1985)


Revento finds Lavoe's career at its nadir. I would argue that his growing unpopularity has much more to do with the dwindling Fania sound and the state of Latin music in general than Lavoe's own work, as Revento and his preceding albums are all worthwhile outings. That being said, his chronic depression (the album closer translates as "I Can't Be Happy), battle with drugs, and the somewhat faltering quality of his voice certainly did not help. Regardless, Lavoe puts on an excellent performance here and still proves himself El Cantante de Los Cantantes. Listen to the smooth, vibe-heavy bolero Don Fulano De Tal to see what I mean.

Get it here

Hector Lavoe - Strikes Back (Fania, 1987)


Lavoe's final album of original material, the title is more a reference to his fame (or lack thereof) than to an actual hiatus from his music. While it may be difficult to imagine that an artist from the 60s and 70s could record an album called Strikes Back in the late 80s with any kind of integrity, that's exactly what's happened. Strikes Back is among his best and, moreover, may be his most intimate. Many of the lyrics deal with how the public perceives him and his struggles with fame and addiction, all put forth with an astute ear for the very pulse that put Latin music on the map nearly two decades before Strikes Back. Don't let the stereotype of a comeback album fool you. If you haven't heard Strikes Back, then you haven't heard everything that Lavoe has to offer.


That's it! This marks the entire accessible Lavoe discography as will be relevant to El Cantante. I have not posted his pre-Colon work, nor his work with the Fania All-Stars. These may come at a later date (if you want to see these uploaded, speak up in the comments). For now, you are officially ready to hit up the movie theaters (TODAY! AUGUST 3RD!) and sing and dance in aisles to the Hector Lavoe film. I certainly hope you enjoy these albums as much as I do, and thank you all for the support and kind words. If you dig the music you see here, remember that much of this music is being reissued, so go out and buy it! And for the many newcomers to this blog, feel free to check back often as I continue to delve into Latin music's greatest rarities as well as its classics!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Latin Show (July 22, 2007) playlist

Here's the playlist for those who missed my show this past Sunday:

1. Monguito - Lindo Guaguanco
2. George Guzman - Cacumen
3. Vitin Aviles - Sufre
4. Tito Rodriguez y Su Orquesta - Payaso
5. Jack Constanzo & His Afro-Cuban Band - Melado de Cana
6. La Playa Sextet - Salta Perico
7. Trio Lissbet - Black Tears
8. Los Pleneros De La 21 - Traigo un Coco
9. Orquesta Revolucion '70 - Llego La Revolucion
10. Adalberto Santiago - Fuego y Candela
11. Tony Pabon y La Protesta - Madre
12. Orquesta Guarare - Que Linda Te Ves

Much thanks to Meshes of the Afternoon, Revolucion, No?, and Pepanito for each contributing a track to my playlist through their own fantastic blogs.

Some have asked whether or not I archive my shows. Unfortunately, I can't distribute my show as it puts WCBN, as opposed to just myself, at legal risk, and I love WCBN far too much to walk that line. The good news is that most of these songs will be featured in future uploads, so you'll hear it all eventually!

And, if you missed this show, I am hosting the Latin Show again this upcoming Sunday on July 29th. Tune in, as I'll be doing a small tribute to Hector Lavoe to celebrate the release of the biographical film El Cantante. You can listen online here.

On that last note, I don't want to give the surprise away, but check back very soon, you won't be disappointed. That's all I'll say for now.....

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Just a reminder to all of you Latin fans that I'll be hosting the Latin Show tomorrow (Sunday, July 22) from 1-2pm, Eastern time. You can listen online at WCBN FM as I spin the best in salsa, guaganco, and boogaloo, and much more from the rarest gems to the hottest classics. Tune in!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Conjunto Canayon - Colection Series, Vol. 1 (Kanayon, 1998)


More Conjunto Canayon!! For my first Conjunto Canayon upload, A Las Millas, go here.

Not too much to say here. In 1998 the members of the defunct Conjunto Canayon got together and created their own label, simply titled Kanayon Records, and released this retrospective of their work, now out of print. You'll find cuts from A Las Millas, Criollo y Mas, and presumably Folkloriko Tropical, though I've never seen the tracklisting for the latter. Much of the stuff on here is standard Conjunto Canayon fare, which is to say that it's absolutely incredible son/salsa/cumbia with hints of jibaro (Puerto Rican folk music) mixed in. I would like to draw attention to the last cut, Tropical Jungle, another one of the Canayon jazz jams with a smooth groove and some really nice flute and horn lines, also a regular on my Latin Show.

Fans of my A Las Millas upload will love this rare glimpse into Canayon's other material. Enjoy!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Conjunto Canayon - A Las Millas (TH, 1981)

As promised, my personal favorite Latin music album. Ever.

Yea, it's a lousy cover. You wanna fight about it?

Click to see album details

Who is Conjunto Canayon? I wish that I could tell you. There's very little information about this band outside of their discography, which itself seems incomplete. What I can tell you is that Canayon (sometimes spelled as Canallon or Kanayon, making information even harder to come by) is a Puerto Rican band led by timbalero Cano Robles. They recorded in the early 80s, during a time when the wave of 70s salsa was diminishing and succumbing to the glossy, overproduced sounds of the decade. Consider a case-in-point. During this time Ruben Blades would record Escenas, featuring the song Sorpresas, the "sequel" to one of his greatest songs on one of the great Latin records of all time: Pedro Navaja, found on Blades's collaboration with Willie Colon, Siembra. While lyrically astute, the energy of the new Seis de Solar band wasn't there, perhaps muddled by the electronic drum kits and synthesizers. It was, in my humble and perhaps very biased opinion, salsa without its musical soul. The fact that such a important legacy in Latin music could not be aptly carried on, for me, perfectly summarizes the state that Latin music would find itself in by the mid-80s. (This is only my opinion....many disagree, and I encourage you to decide for yourself, as Escenas is still in print)

But if there's anything I've learned from my lifelong affair with music, it's that any generalization about a genre or time period in music always carries exceptions. I offer up one of those exceptions today.

A Las Millas, euphemistically translated as "going fast" or "at lightspeed," was recorded in 1981 and released on the Puerto Rican Top Hits label. To my knowledge, this is the band's first album. They would record Criollo y Mas in 1982, and another album, perhaps their most obscure, Folkloriko Tropical, was recorded at a date unknown to me. In 1998, a "best of" of their material, entitled Colecion Series Vol. 1, was issued on a record label created by the Conjunto Canayon members, simply entitled Kanayon Records. It has since become out of print. There may very well be more installments in the Canayon discography that I am not aware of.

It's truly astounding that Conjunto Canayon has gone virtually unheard. Their music fused salsa, cumbia, and descarga while retaining a truly original sound unlike any other artist I've heard. Furthermore, they were incredibly innovative, giving even the great Ray Barretto a run for his money by employing complex rhythms, stop-start structures, and perhaps most intriguing, a boldness in experimenting with dissonance in their melodies, an avenue of exploration that I cannot say even Barretto braved. Indeed, Conjunto Canayon, much like Ray Barretto, sounds like a band founded on Latin jazz playing Latin dance music. Though rare, a few songs such as Wild Tropical (found on A Las Millas) and Tropical Jungle (album unknown, as I've only heard it on the 1998 retrospective) find the band casting off lyrics and pop song structure for extended, flute-centered jams.

The first song on A Las Millas, No Se Puede Vencer, perfectly encapsulates my point. The sweeping piano intro recalls Eddie Palmieri in his more experimental years. Pay attention to the guitar as it comes in. It is slightly dissonant, a tactic virtually unheard of in Latin music. Immediately, you get the feeling that you are listening to something different, something truly unique. Vocalist Cheo Quinones captures this perfectly. He is in no way as refined or polished like the greats Tito Allen or Ruben Blades. Rather, there is something undeniably earthy in his timbre, much more down to earth. This is a vocalist that you would hear singing on the streets of Puerto Rico, accompanying las parrandas (small, roving, improptu bands formed to visit and sing to neighbors) through the barrios, as real as the Puerto Rican soil itself. The flutes move throughout, setting up a darker, minor mood to take the fall for an explosion into more upbeat territory as led by Quinones and his backing vocalists, Pipo Pica and Rafael Lopez.

Then, there's the next track, Chaflan, the hit song of the record. It is a perfect song, start to end, and a classic in the Puerto Rican canon (modern reggaeton artist Residente Calle 13 references the song's chorus in his self-titled album). Once again it begins with the signature Canayon build-up, a dissonant rumbling of the bass and congas, and an elegaic plea from the choro. Soon the polyrhythms come in over the groove, but this is only foreshadowing; if you thought the song was settling in at this point, you are wrong. Soon enough, the real groove comes in, an unforgettable chorus referencing the fugitive main character, Chaflan, as he runs "a las millas." Though it makes more grammatical sense in Spanish, the chorus (Nadie sabe donde viene, pero a las millas) is linguistically playful: no one knows where's he is going--but fast. It is catchy and furious, and features an excellent horn break once again showcasing a penchant for dissonance. The almost haunting, reverberating lyrics during the outro harken back to the production ideas emerging out of the Willie Colon camp in the 70s. This song is, to say the least, sublime.

If the rest of the album slows down, it's only because Chaflan can't be topped, and the songs compose an excellent album no matter what they follow. Rafael Lopez, as on Chaflan, sings Hace Tiempo; Pipo Pica takes over on the hit La Revelacion, a song about a man's epiphany concerning salvation through music. The song features an excellent vocal solo as it improvises with an accompanying guitar, ending in a heavy, bass-driven breakdown that virtually deconstructs the entire song. Cosas Del Amor is an upbeat dance number and ode to love, featuring an unforgettable chorus. Que Cosa's horn lines rank among their best; Nuestra Musica, a Johnny Ortiz cover, showcases fiery flute and percussion work as bookends to the song. The album closer, Wild Tropical, is a Latin jazz jam showcasing the band's musical foundations. Incredible flute abounds, courtesty of Coco Andujar.

I could go on and on about this album and how much I love it (and virtually already have). It is a true gem, one of those finds that is not only treasured for it's rarity, but because it's quality is unequaled. It's a great pleasure to share this with you guys, I can only hope you'll enjoy this band's music as much as I have.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is an original vinyl rip, and, unfortunately, features a few skips (on Que Cosa and particularly on Cosas Del Amor). There is an another mp3 rip floating around on the internet (itself very difficult to find), though the quality is much worse and sounds like it has been heavily treated with noise removal, resulting in a tinny film over the recording. I've included my original, unedited rip, skips and all, but I've also included versions of Que Cosa and Cosas Del Amor in a separate download so that you can hear the song uninterrupted, despite the poor sound quality. I apologize folks, there's nothing I can do about the skips, and you may very well never see this album anywhere else.

The Full Album
Get it here
or here

Que Cosa & Cosas Del Amor (no skip versions, see above)
Get it here
or here

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sorry for the lull in posting guys, I've been incredibly busy. BUT, I think all of you will find it well worth the wait as I'll soon be uploading my FAVORITE LATIN RECORD EVER. It's a gem and a rare one at that, so there's a good chance it'll be new to you.

In the meantime, and in keeping with my Tipica '73 post, Pepanito has shown some great timing and posted three Tipica '73 albums! Check 'em out!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Tipica '73 - Los Dos Lados De La Tipica '73 (Inca, 1977)


Tipica '73 is a loose collective of often rotating members formed during the Ray Barretto fallout in the 70s (detailed in my Orquesta Guarare post). Unlike Orquesta Guarare, Tipica '73 tended towards the more Ray Barretto side of experimentation and Latin jazz, thus making it difficult to to understand why the band members would want to split off in the first place. Orquesta Guarare, it seems, wanted to play straight dance music, making it easy to ascertain why they wanted out of Barretto's experimentalism. Tipica '73, on the other hand, continued to refine the nuances of jazz and Latin fusion with a host of new styles and rhythms. It was as if Barretto himself was split in half by a mighty Janusian blow: on one side, the friendlier but still excellent roots of dance music performed at their best; on the other, a desire for innovation, and moving forward within an already conservative style of music.

But if this schizophrenic fault line tore the Barretto legacy in two, then what is most interesting about today's album is the way in which it carries that duality. Indeed, the album title translates to The Two Sides of Tipica '73, and the LP, originally released on Fania's sister label Inca, was meant to showcase the very split that resulted in the Ray Barretto fallout in the first place; in other words, the continuum between tradition and innovation. Both tendencies exist side by side on this album, from the furious improvisations and stop-start dynamics of the orchestra on Bongo Fiesta, Salsa Suite, and It's A Gay World (my personal favorite), to the straightforward dances of La Botija de Abuelito or Tumba Tumbador. I would also like to point out the electric side of Tipica '73: the electric organ (of some sort?) on Salsa Suite, and the smokin' Yo Bailo De Todo, which features a hot Eddie-Benitez-meets-Santana guitar squaring off against violin and trading fours.

The music here is truly the best of the best, excelling in all respects, whether conservative or cutting-edge. Such quality is to be expected with a line-up boasting violinist Alfredo De La Fe, trumpetist Lionel Sanchez, conguero Jose Grijales, flutist Dick Meza, and the new additions of timbalero Nicky Marrero and ex-Cortijo vocalist Camilo Azuquita, who steps in to take the place of famous Barretto singer Tito Allen from previous Tipica '73 records. He fills in quite beautifully.

The 1977 line-up of Tipica '73, as featured on Los Dos Lados
Back row: Dave Perez, Lionel Sanchez, Joe Grajales, and Nicky Marrero.
Mid row: Camilo Azuquita, Rene Lopez, Dick Mesa, and Alfredo De La Fe.
Front row:
founding members Leopoldo Pineda, Sonny Bravo and Johnny Rodriguez.


Tipica '73 will appeal to Barretto fans and beyond. Enjoy!

Get it here
or here

And feast your eyes on Tipica '73! This first video features the 1975 line-up, as headed up by Adalberto Santiago on vocals, performing Canuto from their album Candela.



Same line-up, performing El Jamaiquino, but with better sound. Check out the organ (?) at 1:45 in, and the sweet wah'd out classical guitar!



Want to know more about Tipica '73? An excellent article by Tommy Muriel covers them in much more detail here.