Sunday, October 23, 2016

Ray Barretto - 2007 "Que Viva La Música"

Produced only a short time after his death, Ray Barretto's A Man and His Music tells the story of a young conguero who went from sitting in on New York's after-hours jam sessions to becoming a Latin music household name, the most influential conguero of his lifetime. It's a long story, spanning better than 45 years and quite a few records, and it's surprising that the Fania label could cram it into a two-disc set. Beginning in his boogaloo years, with famous cuts like "El Watusi" and "Soul Drummers," the collection demonstrates that Barretto's habits of rule-breaking and genre-fusing were obviously formed early. These tracks show a sophistication that the majority of the boogaloo genre did not share. Moving on to Barretto's salsa/Latin jazz experimentation, "Abidjan" and "The Other Road" are a testament to his ongoing creativity. There are, of course, a number of his indispensable hits included, like "Indestructible," "Vale Mas un Guaguanco," and "Guarare." The absence of any of Barretto's genuine jazz work is noticeable and curious, but considering the source of this collection (Fania), that is understandable, if somewhat disappointing. There are guaranteed to be more than a few collections put together immortalizing the late, great master conguero/bandleader. For those who favor his salsa side, A Man and His Music is sure to please.

Well-known in jazz circles for his early work as a ubiquitous sideman with the likes of Gene Ammons, Kenny Burrell, Lou Donaldson and Red Garland and for fronting his own world class Latin jazz ensemble during the final decades of his life, conguero Ray Barretto was equally important as one of the leading figures in the AfroCuban music commonly known as salsa. Affectionately known as "Hard Hands ("Manos Duras ), Barretto also had a sensitive finger on the pulse of the Puerto Rican community and his many albums for the Fania label during the '60s-70s were central to the soundtrack that accompanied the rising consciousness and pride of his people.

The two-CD set Que Viva La Musica chronicles Barretto's impressive artistry during that revolutionary era, with the first disc focusing primarily on his work melding Latin music with elements of AfroAmerican progressive pop and soul and the second documenting his popular advancements within the traditional Latin dance music genre. The first disc begins with several tracks of Barretto's pre-Fania work for Tico and UA Latino, starting with 1962's "El Watusi (the conguero's Billboard-charting Gold Record) and progressing through a history of his crossover hits, with lyrics in both Spanish and English. Reflecting the influences of James Brown, Sly Stone and Motown, the disc is a gumbo of dance party music that rocked the barrios of New York for more than a decade and although most of the songs on the set could be described as period pieces, many of them are ripe for reevaluation. The music on disc two, on the other hand, is timeless in every sense of the word; as relevant and innovative as when they were first recorded. Each of the program's 13 cuts ("El Hijo De Obatala , "Guarare and the title track, to name a few) is a classic featuring driving rhythms and socially powerful lyrics with soaring horn solos that should satisfy the most demanding of jazz listeners.

Barretto himself was an avid discophile who learned much observing jazz producers and engineers and his own productions were of the highest quality. Indestructible (1973) is one of his greatest albums, with pristine sound that allows one to hear the subtle intricacies of the Latin rhythm section. With wonderfully virile lead vocals by Tito Allen and coros from Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon (among others) the Spanish lyrics ring out with a power that even those who do not understand them can feel. The band—jazz soloists like Artie Webb and Manny Duran on flute and flugelhorn, pyrotechnical trumpeters Roberto Rodriguez and "Papy Roman and a smoking rhythm section with pianist Edy Martinez out front—is one of Barretto's strongest units. The music flows through an engaging sequence of songs whose varied forms and rhythms are well-explained in Bobby Sanabria's illuminating liner notes.

In addition to his work as a leader, Barretto was a founding member of the Fania All-Stars, the legendary Latin super group that traveled the world spreading the gospel of salsa in stadium concerts. Live at the Red Garter, Vol. 1 & 2 documents the band's 1968 inaugural performance at the intimate Greenwich Village club that would later become The Bottom Line. The band under the direction of flutist/percussionist Johnny Pacheco consisted of a revolving cast of characters that included pianist Larry Harlow and trombonist Willie Colon and also featured guest artists Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri. Barretto is heard throughout and his composition "Son Cuero Y Boogaloo kicks off the second volume, but the jam-session-like atmosphere and the less-than-perfect sound stand in contrast to the conguero's own excellently produced dates.

The late great Ray Barretto's recordings for the Tico and Fania labels represent an extremely important chapter in the history of Salsa and this compilation offers a fine (if incomplete) overview of his illustrious career. Hopefully, Emusica Records (Fania's new owner) will reissue all of Ray's Tico and Fania CDs. Most of his major hits and trademark tunes are here and no self-serving Barretto fan should be without this great compilation.

Track listing:

Disc 1
01     El Watusi    2:40    
02     El Bantu    2:18    
03     Senor 007    2:13    
04     Do You Dig It    2:29    
05     Soul Drummers    3:50    
06     Hard Hands    2:27    
07     Together    2:36    
08     Right On    2:45    
09     Acid    5:06    
10     Abidjan    4:50    
11     Power    6:09    
12     The Other Road    6:03        
13     Lucretia the Cat    5:35    
14     Cocinando    10:09
15     Arrepientete    5:15    
Disc 2
01     Que Viva La Musica    5:28    
02     La Pelota    4:17    
03     Indestructible    4:14    
04     El Hijo De Obatala    5:03    
05     Guarare    5:37    
06     Vale Mas Un Guaguanco    4:21    
07     Ya Vez    5:43    
08     Tu Propio Dolor    4:13    
09     Fuerza Gigante    4:41    
10     Rhythm of Life 6:37    
11     Manos Duras 5:12    
12     Prestame Tu Mujer 6:14    
13     Aguadilla 4:09