Friday, June 29, 2007

Ismael Rivera con Kako y Su Orquesta - Lo Ultimo En La Avenida (Fania, 1971)

A very special post today guys. One of the most unique and recognizable voices in all of Latin music, Ismael Rivera is my personal favorite cantante, and this is one of my favorite albums featuring him. Curious as to why I consider Rivera the best? See for yourself.

What's odd, though, is that Lo Ultimo En La Avenida is Rivera out of his element. Almost all of Rivera's career is anchored by the support of good friend and percussionist Rafael Cortijo in a duo famously known as Ismael Rivera y Sus Cachimbos. This album, however, finds Rivera backed by another excellent conguero-led band: Kako y Su Orquesta. Though Rivera and Cortijo grew up in the barrios together and formed a timeless bond--both personally and musically--that would rock the world of Latin music, Rivera doesn't seem to skip a beat with Kako behind him, and neither does Kako himself. In fact, it's as if these two had just as much of a history together as the Cortijo and Rivera duo. The arrangements are tight here, as Rivera, in classic form, weaves his singing in and out and over the band's energy, teasing la clave as if he were born with it. This isn't to say that Rivera wasn't at home with Cortijo's band, but the incredible performance on this record really makes me wonder what we would have seen had Rivera and Kako worked more closely together.

Released in 1971 on the Fania label (and recently reissued along with a host of other Fania jams, so do them a favor and buy it if you like it! I've got mine!), Lo Ultimo En La Avenida hosts some of my favorite songs in Rivera's catalog, which itself reads like an extended greatest hits album. I already posted El Cumbanchero in an earlier post (link), and it's my favorite song on here. There are some other classic tunes as well, including the playful poetics of Mi Negrita Me Espera, making humorous comparisons between the color of the night and the skin color of his demanding wife. The ostentatious El Truquito showcases Rivera's sportive ego as well as penchant for skillful inflection, and for some excellent rhumba, check out Cantar Maravilloso. In truth, pretty much every song on here is a hit. From me to you, one of my favorite albums ever!

Get it here
or here

One final note. Before I say goodbye for the weekend, I'd like to hip you to another excellent Latin music blog run by Pepanito. Check it out here for a lot of quality Latin music. Pepanito has great taste and has been nothing but supportive of my entrance into the world of Latin music blogs, and I'd like all of you who aren't already privy to his blog to show him the same!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Vitin Aviles - Con Mucha Salsa (Alegre, 1978)

An underrated vocalist who passed away on January 1, 2004, Víctor Manuel Avilés Rojas led much of his life in relative obscurity despite his tenure with some of the greats of mambo, cha-cha-cha, and the like: Tito Puente, Xavier Cugat, Pupi Campo, Noro Morales, the Lecuona Cuban Boys, and many more. This may be due in part to the constant accusations that Vitin Aviles is merely a Tito Rodriguez clone, copying his technique of shortening notes and "reading" the lyrics as if they were prose. This accusation continues in spite of the fact that Max Salazar, senior writer of Latin Beat magazine, has unearthed recordings clearly demonstrating Vitin Aviles in full vocal form long before Tito Rodriguez's singing debut. It doesn't help that, when Aviles and Rodriguez later became good friends, Aviles would consider Rodriguez his teacher, despite the former being the latter's predecessor. Amidst all of this controversy, however, Aviles is more than conciliatory: "I learned diction with Tito Rodríguez. My voice is a little deeper, but the way I pronounce the words, I sound just like him. I feel very proud of the comparison because Tito Rodríguez was a superstar."

This dedication to fame would wear heavy on Aviles. When his parents bought their first radio in 1932, an eight-year-old Vitin exclaimed, “Caja extranjera con cable pegado a la pared. ¿Hay gente ahí adentro? Si la hay, yo voy a estar con ellos algún día." (A foreign box with a cable going to the wall. Are there people in there? If there are, I'm going to be with them one day.) By the 50s and 60s, he certainly was, but never as recognized as many (including myself) believe he should have been. What is particularly troubling is the waning of his popularity after 1975, despite scoring one of his biggest records that same year on the Alegre label, Canta al Amor.

This may have been due to his perception as a vocalist of the old guard, but then 1978's Con Mucha Salsa, featured here today, seems even more of a mystery. The album, produced by Louie Ramirez, sports a jaw-dropping line-up: Luiz Ortiz and Ray Maldonado on trumpet; Charlie Palmieri on piano; Nicky Marrero on bongos and Johnny Rodriguez on congas; and Adalberto Santiago sharing choro with Miguel Barcasnegras. Clearly, Vitin Aviles can pull off salsa just as well as he can mambo. Why this album was overlooked and did little to curb Aviles's declining popularity is beyond my understanding.

Charlie Palmieri's piano lines kick off the album with Sufre, featuring an unforgettable hook and a performance by the deep-voiced Aviles that makes you wonder why he wasn't a staple on the Fania catalog. Pay attention to the hot breakdown at about 2:40, perfectly summarizing the Nuyorican sound. The commanding Levanta y Anda features some raucous horn lines and a dynamic rhythm that writhes and squirms beneath Aviles's crooning. Dale Cara a Tu Dolor sounds like it was arranged by Willie Colon himself, and it's not a huge leap to picture Ruben Blades sharing the vocal duties. The trumpets on Compay Salsa throw back to Vitin Aviles's earlier tenure with Puente, Cugat, etc., and is sure to get any dance floor moving.

Here's to recognizing him where many others could not. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Orquesta Guarare - Renaissance (Inca, 1979) aka Ray De La Paz - S/T (Fania, 1995)

Orquesta Guarare is one of those excellent groups from what I like to call the "precipitacion radiactiva de Ray Barretto" : the Ray Barretto fallout (for once, something sounds more eloquent in English than in Spanish). Creative differences between Barretto and his band in the late 70s led to a musical fault line. At the risk of oversimplifying, the members wanted to play straight Latin dance music, running contrary to Barretto's Latin jazz and fusion tendencies. Eventually, the Ray Barretto band fired their own leader, and in the wake of this upheaval a number of Ray Barretto bands emerged in a chain reaction the details of which I can never quite get straight. What I do know is that among those bands, two of the best were Tipica 73 (who I will post soon) and the group featured here today. [Anyone who has more detailed information on the Ray Barretto fallout, feel free to add in the comments!]

Renaissance is the second effort from Orquesta Guarare, re-released by Fania as the self-titled Ray De La Paz in 1995, though I'm not quite sure as to the details of the reissue. To my knowledge, their first album has never been released on CD. Guarare originally featured the great Tito Gomez & Ruben Blades duo on vocals, but by their first recording date the singing duties would belong to Ray De La Paz, who you hear on Renaissance. In addition to working with Barretto (most notably on Rican/Struction), De La Paz has also recorded with Louie Ramirez (the Ramirez/De La Paz duo would pioneer "Salsa Romantica" with the Noche Caliente album), and is presently a member of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Nicky Marrero protege Jimmy Delgado, who was playing bongos in Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe's band at about the same time, leads on percussion.

Though not as inventive as the man that Orquesta Guarare left, the band plays some seriously solid dance music with tinges of Barretto here and there. Pay attention to the sound of the production, as, in my opinion, this is the beginnings of modern Latin production value (listen to Spanish Harlem Orchestra today to see what I mean). My favorite on here by far is the heavy Maria, exhibiting some of the more poignant lyricism of the album. Oh, that chorus....

Maria, quiero saber, si tu me vas a querer
(Maria, I want to know, if you are ever going to love me)

Guapo is a lot of fun as well, a warning to "Guapo" 's everywhere. It's fairly difficult for me to directly translate this connotation of Guapo, but think of it as a egotistical guy who thinks he has everything. Ten' cuidado, que al guapo le llega lo suyo (Be careful: the guapo gets his). The percussive explosion on the outro of Que Linda Te Ves will have your butt movin'. Renaissance isn't groundbreaking, but an excellent album nonetheless and a great way to see the sheer talent backing up Ray Barretto in the mid-70s.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Henri Guedon - Early Latin & Boogaloo Recordings by The Drum Master (Comet, 2004)

I had never heard of Henri Guedon until the fine folks over at Comet put together this excellent retrospective of his work from the 60s. A French bongo player, Guedon was instrumental in exporting the new sound of 60s and 70s Latin--guaguanco, boogaloo, salsa, descarga--to France and the rest of Europe. When Guedon began placing his percussion instruments at the front of the stage in the style of his great influence Ray Barretto, French audience members found themselves shocked and intrigued. Soon enough, greats like El Conde and Pacheco were touring France, and Guedon was dubbed The French Salsa King. Were it not for Henri Guedon, Europe could have conceivably taken years to move forward from mambo and cha-cha-cha.

Aside from his novelty status as an exporter of Latin music across the Atlantic, Guedon is an innovator in his own right. He referred to himself as "The Rootless Negro," a metaphor for his willingness to embrace black diversity in his music. Indeed, listening to Early Latin and Boogaloo invokes African-based influences encompassing a number of different contexts, from the drum work (and at times even the Afrobeat) of the African mainland, to the jazz and salsa of Americas, to the culturally-rich creole influences born in a Spanish-French hybrid. The fact that he was born in the Caribbean in the city of Martinique and would spend much of his career in Paris and New York does not simply coincide with the character of his music: it determines it.

Guedon was also a talented painter, his inspiration coming from the same source that fueled his music.

That's not, however, to muddle an incredible collection of Latin dance music with cultural analysis. Make no mistake: Early Latin and Boogaloo is a fantastic look into a fantastic artist's music. The album begins with some of Henri's more conventional songs, solid boogaloos, and his more mainstream hits (Faut Pas Pousser was a hit in France). For me, the real meat of this compilation and Guedon's style begins with Los Antillanos de Paris, beginning a focus on Guedon's descargas and extended jams. Vulcano is a funky, stop-on-a-dime scorcher that is in some ways more Afrobeat than Afro-Cuban; the bass-driven Machapia is perhaps the most overt example of Guedon's African influences, showcasing African drumming; Sainte-Marie, one of my favorites, bring out the funky bass for an extended jam with a hot sax solo. A few other "notables among notables" include Concierto de Mi Bongo, Marcel Song (bring on the flute), Negro Lucumi, and the slowed-down but still solid closer, Descaguajira. Pointing out favorites on a compilation like this, though, is ultimately pointless. Every song on here demands your full attention, and perhaps most importantly, your hip shakin'. Enjoy.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Larry Harlow - Salsa (Fania, 1974)

Seth Watter, who runs an incredible freeform music blog over at Meshes of the Afternoon, recently asked if I had any plans to post some Larry Harlow, and well....who am I to disappoint?

Released not long after his famous tribute to idol Arsenio Rodriguez, pianist Harlow's Salsa was released at a time that proved critical in establishing the Fania Records reputation. Some of my favorite Harlow tunes are on here: from the jovial lament over losing one's wallet on La Cartera, to the more serious lament of No Hay Amigo, tackling the betrayal of friendship. In fact, Harlow's nickname, El Judio Maravilloso (The Marvelous Jew), originated on La Cartera as a bandmember introduces a smokin' Harlow solo, shouting "Ya viene, Larry Harlow: El Judio Maravilloso!" On Wampo, smooth horn-lines recall a ballad in the early morning bar, only to send you home with a descarga hangover on the album closer, Silencio. On top of adding to the Fania sound, Salsa took part in a brief charanga revival before the music would virtually die in the United States. Adalberto Santiago and Junior Gonzalez (who I'll be posting in the future) share vocal duties, and Johnny Pacheco contributes some excellent flute work.

R.I.P. Tito Gomez (1948-2007)

I'm quite late on getting this news, but it's tragic nonetheless. Sonero Tito Gomez (not to be confused with the Cuban singer of the same name), perhaps best known for his work with the early Sonora Poncena, unexpectedly died of a heart attack on June 12 at the far too young age of 59. A great friend of the legendary Ruben Blades (to the right of Tito in the adjacent picture), Gomez also worked with Charlie Palmieri and Ray Barretto, and would later go on to do more contemporary work with acts such as the Colombian Grupo Niche.

Here's Tito Gomez singing choro in Ray Barretto's Ban Ban Quere, next to long time friend Blades.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

El Cumbanchero (Rafael Hernandez)

El Cumbanchero is a Latin standard penned by the man I think of as the Cole Porter of Puerto Rican music: Rafael Hernandez. Among his many hits (Lamento Borincano, Preciosa, Mi Provisa, Mi Patria Tiembla, Siciliana), El Cumbanchero was one of his least favorites. Its popularity, however, could not be denied. When Hernandez was invited to a White House ceremony in the early 60s to honor the then governor of Puerto Rico Luis Munoz Marin, President Kennedy amiably greeted him as "Mr. Cumbanchero."

Of all the versions of El Cumbanchero I've come across, the award for the best belongs to my favorite Latin singer of all time: Ismael Rivera (whom I'll be doing a post of in the future). Rivera had the energy, the presence, and, of course, the voice to successfully bring El Cumbanchero from the older (though no less incredible) musings of Tito Puente and Bebo Valdes into the modern sound of 60s and 70s Latin music. Pay attention to the tongue work-out about 0:29 into the song. Rivera is backed up by Alegre timbalero Kako and his Orquesta, an incredible band that certainly deserves much of the credit for this furious arrangement.
Ismael Rivera con Kako y su Orquesta - El Cumbanchero

Of course, if it's a Latin standard, you can bet that Tito Puente has done an incredible version of it. Check out this excellent video of El Cumbanchero as done by The Mambo King and his orquesta. About 2 minutes in, you're reminded of what makes this man one of the greatest.

Tito Puente backs up Celia Cruz in a medley covering Babalu, Siboney, and, finally, El Cumbanchero. You can catch El Cumbanchero at about 3 minutes in. It's not the best version, and I actually think the babalu treatment is a lot better, but it's still great to hear Celia's part in the tradition.
Celia Cruz - Medley: Babalu, Siboney, El Cumbanchero

Xavier Cugat rocks the upbeat big band uproach.
Xavier Cugat & His Orchestra - El Cumbanchero

And Bebo Valdes does it even better!
Bebo Valdes - El Cumbanchero

For a more modern take, check out a version by pianist Ruben Gonzalez of Buena Vista Social Club fame. A little more subdued in energy, but talent abounds. Having recently started playing the trumpet, I can only marvel at the grit of Manuel Mirabal's trumpet playing (check him out at 25 seconds in).
Ruben Gonzalez - El Cumbanchero

And there's always the kitschy good life/lounge version, on Hammond organ no less!
Klaus Wunderlich - El Cumbanchero

And finally, for your entertainment: ....what?

"I wanna do it faster than this."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Javier Vazquez - Javier (1976)

One of the lesser known Cubans swallowed up in the primarily Puerto Rican 70s New York salsa scene, I first discovered pianist Javier Vazquez through his appearance on Ismael Rivera's Maelo, where he rocks the piano and takes arrangement on a few key cuts. He's also worked with Johnny Pacheco, Frankie Vazquez, Daniel Santos, Rudy Calzado, and Cali Aleman, in addition to brief stints on the mighty Fania and Alegre labels.

Not as well known as some of his other albums (La Verdad), Javier is a smoking set with some unforgettable songs. Si Acaso starts off with a reverb guitar playing a lullaby, only to launch into a dance floor jam all about, paradoxically, getting to bed early to go to work. Tu No Me Has Visto Miguel is a regular on my Latin Show, and features some interesting electric guitar work, paving the way for Javier's brief work on electric piano later through the album, particularly on the ballad Companeros del Sabor. And Mi Ritmo Esta Bueno has an unmistakable Ismael Rivera vibe to it.

My first official upload. I hope you enjoy!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Willie Colon - La Murga

This may very well be one of the most famous horn lines to ever come out of Puerto Rico. I'm not sure who the other cantante is. I want to say Pete Rodriguez, but this guy's voice is too high and he doesn't have the whole Barry White facial structure going on. Yomo Toro from Chile tears it up on cuatro. Believe it or not, this is technically Christmas music.

El primer

I created this to share my love for Latin music, and as an adjunct resource to the Latin Show on WCBN FM (, which I host every three weeks in addition to my normal freeform show, The Sourdough Rag. You can expect periodical updates of songs or albums, ranging from 70s Nuyorican salsa to Latin soul to plena to guajira and beyond, all with an admittedly Puerto Rican bias. Without further ado, the playlist to my show from earlier today:

The Latin Show (June 17, 2007)

1. Larry Harlow - No Hay Amigo
2. Cuco Valoy y Los Virtuosos - El Amigo y La Mujer
3. Orquesta Novel - Papas Fritas con Hamburger
4. Ismael Rivera con Kako y Su Orquesta - El Cumbanchero
5. Los Dementes - La Llorona
6. Ray Barretto - Indestructible (Live)
7. Orquesta Sociedad '74 - Ahora Tengo Una Vieja
8. Chivirico - Cuando Tu Quieras
9. Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez - Soy La Ley
10. Javier Vazquez - Tu No Me Has Visto Miguel
11. Tempo 70 - El Galleton
12. Cortijo y Su Maquina del Tiempo - De Coco y Anis