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Al talks about the Alegre All-Stars

Column: The Other Side Of The CD

by Al Santiago

No, the Alegre All-Stars (also known as the Cesta All-Stars) was not Kako's idea, it was mine, but he was certainly perfect as one of the co-leaders along with Charlie Palmieri, Louie Ramirez and myself.

Charlie would kick off a number by playing an 8 or 16 bar intro all by himself...setting up the tempo, the mood and the feeling--then Kako would jump in with the always-prepared-for-anything rhythm section, which included Frankie Malabe, Dandy Rodriguez, Joe Quijano and on occasion Willie Rosario and/or Orlando Marin.

After the rhythm section advanced the tune forward somewhat I would encourage and cue Barry or Chombo to lay down a guajeo motif which the other would follow about 16 bars later, a third about the melody line, or in unison an octave below or this time Puchi was ready for one of his melodic rhythmic flights in a comfortable and pleasant range to improvise in his special way. After about 32 bars Puchi would continue to solo but now Barry and Chombo would drop their original Guajeo and come in with some backup riffs for Puchi. Later Chombo would solo against backup riffs before Bobby Rodriguez would take his "dedo gordo" bass solo with often only Charlie playing some piano adornments. After a substantial Bobby bass solo, Charlie would take his long but always interesting solo and this would take us out to about two-thirds of the tune.

The vocals and the coros did their "call and response" bit and then we would get down to some serious jammin'. If, at this point, I was mentally fatigued by my cueing and body language leading I would signal to Louie Ramirez to take over the conducting chair and Louie would make his contribution.

There were four co-leaders who, without any ego or vanity, would turn over the illusionary baton to another co-leader who appeared inspired and the tune was taken forward with much horn playing, horn solos, horn backups and Kako and his rhythm section coming up in force with a united break as if they had rehearsed for weeks. Kako had this down pat and we (aside from the rhythm section) never knew how he did it. When cued Kako would have the rhythm section lay down a break that sounded as if they all were sight readers and were reading music as if it were the Daily News.

The All-Stars were an improvising group and Willie Torres would tell me off if I dared to bring in a sketch (not an arrangement, a sketch) to organize our intros and endings. On very few occasions we played an arrangement. One was Hector Rivera's "Bobby Rodriguez: Bajo and Clarinet" chart. That was a great exception but Willie Torres fought for no charts. He wanted us to strictly improvise, and for the most part we did.

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