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Joe Cuba, Joe Cuba Sextette with Cheo Feliciano CD
Joe Cuba, Estamos Haciendo Algo Bien! CD
Ricardo Ray, Jala Jala Boogaloo, Vol. 2 CD
Johnny Colón, Boogaloo Blues CD

Review: Crossover Dreams/Boogaloo Blues

by J.J. Rassler

The mid 1960's music charts experienced a fusion, or crossover, in many cultural styles. The American pop charts were filled with British Blues (?), Folk-Rock, and Motown's brand of R&B scored big in the musical mainstream. Some were destined to become nothing more than mere musical mutants while other hybrids became a link, unique to themselves, in the chain of musical evolution.

Spearheading New York City's Boogaloo movement were Joe Cuba and his Sextette, and their monster hit "Bang Bang." A solid percussive unit utilizing vibes in place of horns, the band featured two incredibly versatile lead vocalists: Cheo Feliciano and the Jimmy Sabater, whose styles drifted from boleros to the street corner harmony of rhythm and blues and doo-wop, to screaming party style narratives in both spanish and english.

Having recorded for some time before the Boogaloo explosion, the 12 tracks on Joe Cuba Sextette with Cheo Feliciano (WS Sound) feature some earlier sides including the timeless Feliciano vocal "Como Rien" and the beautiful "A Las Seis." The vocal and the percussion on the romantic "Sere Feliz" are accentuated by the lush stereo production of the recording. Same goes for the cookin' cover of Tito Puente's immortal "Oye Como Va" (See review of TP's No Hay Mejor in the "Short Cuts" column for his version of "Oye Como Va" - Ed.). These numbers provide a solid overview of the early recordings of the Sextette. For the wild tunes he was to become known for, it is important to hear the somewhat more roots oriented, although dynamic, Joe Cuba and his Sextette on the verge of a musical breakthrough.

The mid 60's Tico recordings of Jose Cuba are the more significant crossover sounds most people relate to Boogaloo. This complete Tico/Fania re-issue entitled Estamos Haciendo Algo Bien! We Must Be Doing Something Right! kicks off with "Pruebalo," a bilingual foray into the popular dances of the time, i.e. the Boston Monkey. Also featured is the stunning bolero, "Si Te Dicen." Equally moving is the soulful vocal, in English, on "My Wonderful You." These more passionate numbers are well complemented by the dance hall killer of them all, "El Pito (I'll Never Go Back To Georgia)," that burns the house down with a chorus lifted from Dizzy Gillespie. Stoked to the same heat are the Hector Rivera mambo "Ya No Aguanto Mas" and Luis Miranda's "Arecibo." The great grooves here mark this as something more than just a period piece, thanks largely in part to the fine production by Pancho Cristal, and to the bands infectious musical approach which clearly validates the albums title.

When reviewing the Latin/Soul scene of the '60's it is impossible to avoid the name Ricardo Ray. Highly regarded by fans and peers, Richie's dynamic piano playing, memorable tunes and stellar collaborations have secured him a place on Latin music's Mt. Rushmore. Jala Jala y Boogaloo, Vol. 2 (Alegre/Fania) was originally released in 1968 as a follow up to his mega hit Jala Jala y Boogaloo. Most of the tunes were written by Ray and vocalist supreme, Bobby Cruz. A strong emphasis on melody over lyrical content permeates. For example "Musica Ye Ye" features a great beat and dynamic rhythms with minimal lyrical content. This in no way detracts from the overall impact. It merely substantiates Ray's talents. "Tin Marin," "Iqui Con Iqui," in true Jala Jala fashion, and "More Richie," which directly spotlights the piano prowess of Mr. Ray, are highlights of this great Pancho Cristal production.

Each genre of music has it's classics. The tunes that are the most often remembered, that capture the feel, the soul of the music. The artist might have been the originator of the sound or just a part of the general movement. He might of had a one spectacular megahit, or a string of many. But every now and then there's something about a particular cut that sets it apart from the rest. In 1967 Cotique released a record by a vocalist/trombonist by the name of Johnny Colón whose title track, Boogaloo Blues possessed a raw, moody, yet exciting undercurrent that is the essence of Boogaloo. Having been a singer earlier on in the Sunsets (an R&B style vocal group), Johnny, now fronting his Latin horn ensemble, brought this element into play with the doo-wop intro to "Judy Part 2," which unfolds from it's slow paced English lyrics into a more crisp rhythm with Spanish and English call and response. The tune gradually builds with the trombones and background vocals creating excellent counter melodies and clever harmonies. From their stage act they delivered an incredible version of the classic Guantanamera that has a hesitant but highly provocative feel. Maybe it's the bass that prowls, or the trombones' growl that give this recording it's sinister ambience.

It is curious that at that time commercial airplay was given to the seductive sway of the track "Boogaloo Blues," what with it's controversial drug references and inordinate time length - more than twice the norm for that era. The pleading vocals quickly transform the summer of love into one of lust in one of the coolest tracks ever cut. Here was a real tough, bad-ass swagger that dared to argue. This tune tells you where it was at in no uncertain terms. Was it a fluke? Check out these cats as they break into "Descarga," with it's studio banter and cat calls that proceeds to explode into a percussive display that pin-points the epicenter of Latin music. Through the smoke, the trail of the fireball that was Boogaloo still glows. Check it out.

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