Original release, 1965 – Roost Records LP 2261
CD reissue, 1999 Tico Records SLP-1173
The blind Afro-Cuban tres player, percussionist, composer and bandleader Arsenio Rodríguez was one of a handful of individuals who fundamentally changed Latin music in the twentieth century, a fact which history and audiences were somewhat slow to recognize. This record features a lean, stripped-down ensemble he put together in early 1958 at the behest of Teddy Reig, who for some reason sat on the recordings for a full seven years. Reig was apparently interested in “folkloric” Cuban music but Arsenio brought him a dozen new compositions. It is kind of an “unplugged” album, though – the tres is unamplified, without the pleasingly gritty tone he would get when running it through an amp, and hence so of the most crystal clear playing he ever committed to tape. The clarity is also helped by the absence of piano and bongó, leaving the middle and middle-upper registers all to the tres and the trumpets. For me, “Rumba Guajira” is the most spell-binding cut here but all the tunes are excellent. Maybe Reig’s thirst for folklore was quenched by the vernacular poetic form showed off in ‘Coplas de España” with Arsenio ripping 16th-noted arpeggios with hints of flamenco. Shortly after this recording session, Arsenio made one of several tours to Chicago, playing for the Puerto Rican and Cuban audiences on the city’s north side at clubs like the Capri.*
1 La Pasion
2 Me Engañastes Juana
3 Lo Que Dice Justi
4 Rumba Guajira
5 Coplas De España
6 Que Mala Suerte
7 Fiesta En El Solar
8 Me Equivoque Contigo
9 A Gozar Mujeres
10 No Lo Niegues
11 El Lema Del Guaguanco
12 Guaguanco De Puerta Tierra
Sessions recorded in 1958 in NYC. Also issued as Arsenio y Kike: canta Monguito (Tico LP-1173) on vinyl.
Ramón “Monguito” Quián – first vocal
Davy González – first vocal
Candido Antomattei – second voice
Israel Berrios – second voice and guitar
Agustin Caraballoso – trumpet
Johnny Malco – trumpet
Arsenio Rodríguez – tres
Abelardo Chacón – timbal
Kiki – tumbadora
Producer – Teddy Reig
Written songs composed by Arsenio Rodriguez except track 3 by Justí Barreto
*Information for this post was drawn from the excellent book, Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music by David F. García, 2006 Temple University Press.
El Gran Combo – Por El Libro
1972 EGC Records LPS 003
Vinyl rip in 24-bit/96 kHz | FLAC | Art scans at 300 dpi
El Gran Combo is practically an institution in Puerto Rico, they have been around so long and had so many members over the years. The group has also served as a launching pad for a number of artists who have gone on to solo careers. This is a pretty solid early-70’s record. Particular highlights are compositions by the prolific Claudio Ferrer, and the gorgeous, moody “Estas Equiviocado” by Osvaldo Farres (of “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” fame).
Orchestra Harlow – El Jardinero del Amor
Vinyl rip in 24 bit 192 khz | Art at 300 dpi
24 bit 192khz 1.65 GB |24 bit 96 khz – 883 MB | 279MB 16-bit 44.1 khz
Fania Records SLP 00499 | Released 1976 | Salsa / Latin-Jazz
Dr. Vibes 12 Days of Christmas – Day 11 – Led by musical innovator and pioneer Larry Harlow (El Judio Maravilloso), Orchestra Harlow put out a string of top-notch albums for the Fania label. Larry had led a storied life – he lived in Cuba before the revolution, studying music and anthropology. He had helped revive the career of Celia Cruz with his “Latin opera” Hommy in the early 70s. And he was an accomplished santero. None of this prevented him from being ripped off by Fania – around the time of this album, he realized that they had not been paying what they owed to him, and he sued his own label. Needless to say they were counting down the days left in his contract to drop him, and did little to promote his records from this period. Which is a shame because this is pretty much non-stop greatness from start to finish. Of especial note is the folkloric-themed Cuento Carabali that works as a great grand finale here.
Angel Canales – El Diferente 1982 Senelac Records LP 8881
Salsa / Latin-Jazz / Fusion
Well Brazil has jumped the shark, so I’m going to devote some musical energy to other places for a while. The U.S. still has a chance of climbing back out of the rabbit hole it’s gone down. And that is in no small part due to the ever-evolving demographic changes that terrify the White Nationalists so much. So, here’s an album from the great Ángel Canales, born in Santurce, PR, but raised in New York. His recording career began on Alegre Records with a record featuring a sexy but somewhat bizarre album cover and a hit in “Lejos De Ti”. By the 1980s, he was putting out records on his own label, SENALAC. This one features a blistering-hot band, with amazing baritone sax blowing by Pete Miranda, and charismatic Canales leading the proceedings. While “El Diferente” is still firmly rooted in salsa, bomba, and plena traditions, there is also a fusion edge to the band’s versatility and ability to surprise with their arrangements (done by no less than six different people). Continue reading
Lead Vocals – Ada Chabrier, Nancy O’Neill, Rosa Soy
Piano – Carol Parker
Timbales – Susan Hadjopoulos
Trombone – Kathy Cary
Trumpet – Ellen Seeling, Trudy Cavallo
Arranged By – Luis “Perico” Ortiz (tracks: B1), Marty Scheller (tracks: A1, A2, A4, A5, B2), Randy Ortiz (tracks: B4), Sonny Bravo (tracks: A3, B3)
Producer – Larry Harlow, Rita Harlow
Engineer – Irv Greenbaum, Mario Salvati
This curious little record seems like it ought to have a lot of great stories surrounding it. Maybe somebody will come by and tell us some in the comments section here, because there really is not a lot of information out there on the internet. When I bought it, I assumed that Larry Harlow actually played on the session, and I continued thinking that for a while before I stopped being lazy and actually read the info on the back cover. I have been noticing signs that I am getting old lately. One of them is that I do not religiously read album credits like I used to when I was a young lad, back before the days of being flooded with more music than we can possibly listen to in one lifetime. Another clue that I am getting old is that I actually enjoyed the hell out of a Dire Straits album the other day and thought it was pretty groovy.
So, the truth is that Latin Fever was an all-female group, playing mostly bi-lingual salsa but with strong inflections of latin jazz, soul, funk, and even some rock thrown in the mix by way of Bev Phillip’s plonky guitar solos. Nearly all the members had an
impressive resume as session musicians, but the idea of an all-woman Latin band was (and still is) rather unusual. One thing that immediately jumps out from the list of credits is that Latin Fever shared many members with another group of women that was shaking up expectations, the relatively unheralded soul-funk band Isis. In fact there is so much overlap that you could say they nearly form the core of the band. I love the first two Isis records, so it is no surprise that I took to this album right away. The soldiers from the ranks of Isis on this album are: Ginger Bianca on drums and Nydia Mata on congas holding down a solid percussive foundation; Ellen Seeling on trumpet, and Jean Fineberg on saxophone and flute. With the exception of Bianca, all these musicians also played on a bunch of records from the likes of Laura Nyro, Chic, Sister Sledge, Teresa Trull. Jean Fineberg also contributed vocals to some classic David Bowie tunes.
Latin Fever featured three lead vocalists, often switching up throughout the tracks, which makes it difficult to say anything about them as individuals. Ada Chabrier, Rosa Soy, and Nancy O’Neill all put in time as backup singers with Ray Barretto, Joey Pastrana, Fania All-Stars and Orchestra Harlow, among others. There is quite a bit of talent among the three arrangers as well (who, alas, are all men). The most impressive CV here is from Luis “Perico” Ortiz, who only arranged one track here which happens to also be my favorite on the album. As a trumpet player he appears on dozens of great records in the families of Fania, Vaya, Inca, and Allegre records, but as an arranger he also worked with all the greats, as they say: Hector Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano, Sonera Ponceña, Mongo Santamaria, Roberto Roeno, Celia Cruz, Willie Colon and Ruben Blades, and naturally Orchestra Harlow. Also notable is the presence of Sonny Bravo on some arrangements, who has too many credits to name but in the years leading up to this record had worked with Tipica ’73, Charlie Palmieri, La Lupe, and Azuquita e Su Melao. However the majority of material on the album was arranged by a relatively unknown Marty Scheller, who has a much more modest list of credentials.While the first cut “Digan Que Si” is a reasonably strong opener, the record seems to take it’s time getting down to business. I can’t help but thinking that it was sequenced in a way that wouldn’t threaten too many male egos by having a group of ladies come out and kick serious musical ass, instead opting to ease the listener into the idea of female instrumental virtuosity. My first real “wow!” moment on this record comes with “Chirrin Chirran” which in my opinion could really have opened up the album instead of being sequenced as a deep cut at the end of side one. It’s the song that really ties together their whole aesthetic into one seamless bundle, with melody and hooks galore. I like it so much that it was included on one of my early podcasts here. I can understand why they didn’t want to open the record with it for the simple reason that it isn’t their own song, but a cover of a hit by Los Van Van. The original is classic, so I’ve linked it below (and check out that dragging beat on the drums). It is impressive how Latin Fever managed to turn it into a monster jam, complimenting rather than imitating the earlier recording. They flatten out the jaggedness of the original – which was naturally part of its appeal – but that seems to make it easier for them to stretch it out to jam-worthy lengths, and also add a verse in English of their own.One function of a great deep cut at the end of Side One is that it compels you to waste no time in flipping the record over, promising more treasures. And indeed things seem to open up a little on the second side, with the immediately compelling “La Mujer Latina,” which must have been something of an anthem for this group and a showcase in their live sets. It is the only completely self-authored composition on the album, credited entirely to Cuban-born vocalist Rosa Soy. Opening with only vocals and percussion that make the hairs on my neck stand up like an invocation to an orisha, it morphs from salsa into jazzy soul, at which point the lyrics begin to sound a bit like a self-help manual of affirmations and aphorisms I might find at Women and Women First bookstore (“show them you’ve got soul; proving you’re versatile / you’re mother and sister and friend in one”). I’m down with the message, though, because they are important sentiments, then and now. The song structure is just as progressive as the lyrics, with four distinct sections that do not repeat.
“Que Te Pasa Corazon” starts as a ballad and ends in a jam. “En La Habana” is a pleasant and uplifting nod to Cuban son music with a deeply grooving bridge section. “Our World” has a riff that reminds me of Chicago’s great tune “Beginnings” – I wish I hadn’t made the association because now I can’t get it out of my head when I hear this song and I probably just passed it along to you too, so sorry about that. It has kind of a disco-gliding-across-the-floor mid-tempo groove to it that almost gets kind of Vegas, before the band once again treats us to a tasty bridge that unfortunately isn’t given the time to come to a full climax before coming back into the final verse.
So what happened to Latin Fever? The liner notes promise more to come, and from the material here it seems like they were off to an auspicious start. One would think that having Larry Harlow’s name attached as producer and presenter would have helped sell records and draw attention. Rita Harlow essentially assembled the band, however, so there is an element of them being “artificially” created by management, drawing from a deep pool of studio talent. Perhaps there were personality conflicts we’ll never know about which kept them from continuing, or perhaps the members realized they could make more money as individual sessions players than as a group, especially since they were probably ceding disproportionate chunks of their income to the Harlows and to Fania’s Jerry Masucci. Or maybe there was just a lack of interest in the record and they gave up on the idea. DJ and music writer Aurora Flores remarks in the liner notes that all-female Latin groups were not completely unknown in the past, but were usually relegated to ‘novelty group’ status. And this LP seemed deliberately trying to avoid that trap, down to the choice not to put a band photo anywhere on the album that would tip off the potential record buyer that this was an “all girl” group. Hell, look how long I had it in my own collection without picking up on that. I tip my hat to them for not relying on sexual exploitation on an album cover to sell records – and remember how this was far more socially acceptable and common in the 70s – and refusing to objectify the women in Latin Fever. On other hand a tasteful group photo, even just on the back cover (I like the painting for the front cover just fine), might have not have hurt. This is a solid record with moments of real brilliance that seemed to hint at greater achievements ahead. It’s a shame they called it a day after this LP.
Joey Pastrana And His Orchestra Let’s Ball 1967 Cotique (CS-1006)
Let’s Ball 4:22 Bien Dulce 3:25 La Grimas Negras 2:57 Mani Picante 3:00 Jammin’ With Joey 3:35 My Shingaling 3:35 Rubon Melon 5:35 Flamenco Ole’ 3:57 En Nada Estas 5:00
Ismael Miranda – vocals Johnny Riviera – bass Chicky Perez – bongos Becky Rivera, Junior Morales, Sonia Rivera – chorus Willie Pastrana – congas Joey Pastrana – band leader, drums Paquito Pastor – piano Jack Hitchcock, Wilfred Vasquez – trombones Dave Gonzalez – trumpet
Photography – Charles Stewart Album jacket design – John Murello Engineer – Gary Kellgren Produced by George Goldner
Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair with mono fold-down; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
*As you can plainly see, Joey’s name is spelled PASTRANO all over this release. This was an error by the Cotique label who rushed it’s release. It’s particularly odd because they got his brother’s name right.
Poster courtesy of herencialatina.com
Joey was a prolific musician whose hits got more radio airplay outside of his home turf of the Big Apple, in large part because of unfriendly relations with the Fania clique who had scary control over disc jockeys at the time. As a teen he studied the drum kit under Gene Krupa, gave it up because it was too much of a pain in the ass to carry his gear home on the subway at 3 a.m., and switched to percussion, soon becoming an accomplished timbalero while playing with Bobby Valentin’s group.
This is a very nice album debut for Joey Pastrana as a bandleader, highlighting one of his traits that contributed to his survival beyond the boogaloo craze – he always diversified his repertoire with different rhythms. In fact fact I’m glad he breaks things up, because I often can’t handle entire records of boogaloo all at once. Although Joey and his brother Willie (on congas) were young dudes when they made this record, they swing their mambos, salsas,and descargas like old pros here. The title track “Let’s Ball”, “Bien Dulce,” and “My Shingaling” are really the only boogaloos here, and the spectacular track “Rumbon Melon” became something of a salsa standard. Another special treat is Joey’s arrangement of
Lágrimas Negras (inexplicably written as La Grimas Negras on the jacket
and label), a classic tune from Trío Matamoros first recorded in the
30s. The instrumental “Flamenco Olé” allows brother Willie to take some liberties on the congas, and the trombones have echoes of “A Night In Tunisia.” The lead vocals on the LP are from none other than a young Ismael Miranda, who made only this one album with Joey in between gigs with the Harlow brothers (first Andy, then Larry). Joey was also ahead of his time having women backup singers in the coro, one of whom was his sister-in-law, Sonia Rivera.
Fun fact: I actually did pay only 49 cents for this record (plus
tax!), still sealed in the original shrinkwrap. I don’t remember
exactly where I found it except that it was someplace very unhip, like a
K-Mart or a Sears or one of those department-stores places that used
to sell vinyl. It was in the 1990s, when such stores still had some
stock, and you would sometimes randomly wander through one and see a
bunch of LPs on clearance Like this one, which they
obviously had no idea what the hell it was. You’re not likely to find this for fifty cents now. So grab this here, burn it to a CD-R and give it to everyone you know, and without an ounce of misgiving: Joey never made a cent off his Cotique recordings, and (as per this 2005 interview) was exploring ways to sue them.