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09/18/98

Abel Delgado shares his appreciation for some salsa classics, as well as a few more recent items well worth looking into.


Review: Abel's Favorites, Vol. 1

by Abel Delgado

JUSTO BETANCOURT
Distinto Y Diferente
CD (Fania 502) 1977 Release. Reissued 1993.
You can say that again. Justo and his powerhouse band, Borincuba, alternately roar and suave their way through 10 excellent numbers, including the title track, a dancefloor filler that features Justo at his aggressive best. Soy Profesional and No Estas en Nada are more power tracks on the album, offset by the mellow boleros La Vida Mia and Nuestro Juego. Son montuno rears its retozón head on this album in Borincuba, which is very nice, and even a salsified guajira called yela is featured. Recuerdos de Panamá is an interesting tune that jumps from son to a Panamanian groove, and Belén and Flores de Olvido, another one of those "get-out-of-my-life" tunes so often featured in Latin music, round out the album. Overall, a fine pickup.

JUSTO BETANCOURT
Lo Sabemos
CD (Fania 483) 1975 Release. Reissued 1992.
Cantan: Yayo el Indio, Roberto Torres, Marcelina Guerra
By itself, Justo's smoking diana on Cambia Palo Pa' Rumba make this album worth the price of admission. This is seventies salsa at its finest, with driving brass and rock solid percussion spurred on by strong arrangements. And don't forget Justo himself, who at the time was one of the best soneros around. True to the sonero, tradition, on this album Justo also delves into a nice son montuno and of course, boleros, showing off his romantic side. To be a diehard salsero, especially if you want to be considered a 70's salsa connoisseur, you must have this album. If not, this could arouse suspicions that you are in fact a fraud that secretly harbors Air Supply and Duran Duran albums. Consider yourself warned...

JUSTO BETANCOURT
Pa Bravo Yo
CD (Fania 426) 1972 Release.
Even through it's only 2 minutes long, Oyeme Cantar makes this album worth the price. Justo absolutely slays it on that track. It should be required listening for all aspiring soneros. It's not just about what he says, it will be the riffs after the first mambo that will give you goosebumps-pure Matanzas soul. The setup here is fairly simple, a couple of trumpets, piano, bass and percussion. But what a great sound out of a simple setup. Justo shines on the title track, does a nice job on boleros like Psicología, slips into a nice guajira (that sounds suspiciously like a son montuno), then charges back at you with Caracas Tiene Su Guaguancó. If you don't have this one in your collection, hurry up and grab it before your diehard salsero friends find out and clown you. And if you don't like it, check yourself-I hear that not liking this album may be a sign that your favorite jazz artist is Kenny G and that you think Michael Bolton really is a good opera singer, all of which are strong indications that you are a cultural vacuum. If this is the case, your penance is buying a bottle of Bacardí and drinking it with this album cranked until you understand how great it is.

LUIS ENRIQUE
Mi Mundo
CD (Sony 080146) 1989 Release.
Don't let his galán de la novela good looks fool you. Luis is not just another bonitillo/fariseo producto del mercadeo. He really can sing, and is a wicked percussionist. Mi Mundo features him at the top of his game and fame, with well written numbers like San Juan Sin Ti and Yo No Puedo Ser Tu Amante driven by Luis's percolating conga and bongo work, not to mention a backup band featuring Puerto Rico's top musicians. Also noteworthy on this album are Luis's impressive vocal range, poetic soneos and phrasing, especially when singing into a mambo. This isn't salsa monga, it's salsa romántica done with edge and artistry. A fine addition to your music library.

LAS ESTRELLAS AREITO
Las Estrellas Areito Vol. 1
CD (Lucuso 9876003)
The opening mazacote on Prepara los Cueros pulls you in hypnotically, with its slow and sinuous groove, then you're hit by Miguelito Cuní's tobacco-cured voice and always hip phrasing. Later, Rubén "El Mulo" González glides over the tune with a fine piano solo, followed by El Guajiro Mirabal's soaring trumpet. Pure old-school cubanazo flavor, esto sí que no se encuentra en la botica de en frente. Another groove follows this one, the classic son montuno Yo Sí Como Candela. Mi Amanecer Campesino is yet another son montuno, masterfully sung by Pío Leyva, who then jumps into the funky Póngase Para las Cosas, in which the Cubans chide people for using the term salsa, a term that today they have embraced completely on the island. If you liked the Buena Vista Social Club, Introducing Rubén González or A Toda Cuba le Gusta, you'll be sure to love this. The only defect this CD has is that it has only 4 tunes. Still, with the all- star lineup and brilliant performances, you'll get your money's worth and more.

ROBERTO FAZ
Saludos A Roberto Faz
CD (Seeco 9198) 1960 Release. Reissued 1998.
This is a classic album by one of Cuba's great and underrated soneros. His band, which continued recording after his death, scorches through Potaje and Rumba Pa' Los Rumberos. The only frustrating thing is that these songs are so short. Still, Faz and his boy pack a lot of timba into those couple of minutes, as you'll see with tunes like the swinging son montunos Nadie Baila Como Yo and La Tumba Brava. Although he didn't have a pretty voice, Faz had an ability to make boleros work for him, and he serves up a couple of classics like Sabor a Mí and Dueña de Mi Corazón. Overall, this is puro sabor cubano, pre-Alí Babá y sus cuarenta ladrones, a perfect complement to some dark Bacardí and a Padrón Ejecutivo cigar.

CHEO FELICIANO
Cheo
CD (Vaya V 5) 1976 Release.
A comeback album Cheo recorded after taking 3 years off for various reasons. And what a comeback! Has the standard Fania mix of 3 or 4 boleros mixed in with dance numbers, but this is no fresh off the assembly line Rosie the Robot kind of salsa we hear today. Olvídate de eso-with Orestes Vilató on timbales, Louie Ramírez on vibes, Larry Harlow on piano and none other than Johnny Pacheco on conga, this album has that rough, groove-heavy flavor that characterizes 70s salsa. Anacaona opens the CD, and is a classic, a huge hit in its day. Cheo dips into the bolero bag on the next tune, Pienso en Ti, but you won't mind too much. Even if you aren't a bolero fan, Cheo's smooth delivery may make you fonder of the genre. Then Cheo and crew hit us hard with a tough son montuno, Pa' Que Afinquen, another classic, next comes more lovey-love with Mi Triste Problema, then some energizing old-school salsa with Este es el guaguancó. Of course, this song isn't actually a guaguancó, but as good as it sounds, we'll let that slide.
Next up is Si Por Mí Llueve, which, although the lyrics are not philosphically profound (to say the least), has a catchy chorus that will ring in your head like tinnitus for weeks and maybe even years. Cheo really smokes through his vocals on this tune, showing us some hip, joyful phrasing and witty soneos. Of course, he smokes through all of his vocals on this one. Even the boleros have a smolder to them. The playing is strong but relaxed, allowing Cheo to shine. Other standout tunes include Mano Caliente, Franqueza Cruel and Medianoche y Sol. Basically, this one should fly into your shopping cart at warp speed.

TATA GÜINES
Aniversario
CD (Egrem 0156) 1996 Release.
Tata is probably one of the most influential percussionists of all time. His recordings with Cachao in the 50s had some positively space-age rolls and riffs. And he hasn't slowed down much, as this album will attest. This is Afro-Cuban funk with some new wrinkles, like Cachaíto on bass and Guillermo Pompa on tres, which is not something you hear every day in rumba.

The breakdown on this album is quite simple: it kicks ass all the way through. Dale Tres Golpes a la Tumba will not only keep you alert when driving late at night, it may cause tachycardia. Homenaje a Calixto Callava features the rich poetry that characterizes rumba over a boiling rhythm, and El Goyo (en paz decanse) conducts a rumba singing clinic on Jerigonza, Blen Blen Blen and Columbia. The other vocalist, Rogelio Gatel, is no slouch either, delivering a seasoned, laid-back performance. The rest of the album features the same rocking batá-tumbadora combination, offset by the melodic tres. This is one of my favorite rumba albums, and I think it will be one of yours too. Agua, timbero!

TOMMY OLIVENCIA
Plante Bandera
CD (Inca I 1042) 1975 Release.
This is a 70s salsa tour de force. From the opening trumpet notes of Planté Bandera, these guys mean business. The band sounds great, Luis Perico Ortiz' arrangements are beyond superlative (check out what may be the best break and mambo in salsa history on Planté Bandera) and Chamaco Ramírez turns in a slick, clever and often hilarious performance with his funky phrasing and soneos. The songs themselves are typical salsa dance tunes, nothing too profound, but a joy to listen to because of their catchiness and energy, like A La Yumbae, one of the few merengues I actually admit enjoying. If you play this album at a party and don't get everybody up and dancing, you're probably partying with Republicans and need to get a new set of friends. Do your ever-developing sense of aesthetics a favor and add it to your shopping cart.

PAULITO Y SU ELITE
Con La Conciencia Tranquila
CD (Nueva Fania 108) 1997 Release.
This is his best work yet. Paulito's inspired compositions (En la Habana, No Te lo Creas Todo, and the title track, among others) hit new heights with Juan Manuel Ceruto's ingenious arrangements. A big improvement over Paulito's previous work. This album is much more focused, with a strong, uniform sound. Joel Paez's work on drums also has to be mentioned, as he drives the rhythmic attack that the surprisingly fat horn section punctuates. Paulito will probably never be known for having a powerful set of pipes or being a great sonero, but also cannot be classified as another salsa marketing automaton wound up and told to go sell records by his company. In his own way and with his own style, which features a strong sense of timing and often inventive phrasing, he comes off, especially so in this album. This is perfect for pumping as you cruise down the avenue (you'll stand out from the other boneheads pumping frenetic, monosonic merengue and the monotonous moaning of yet another salsa meat puppet) or at a party.

TITO RODRIGUEZ
Back Home In Puerto Rico
CD (WS Latino 4177) Reissued 1989.
This is another recording that merits an alabao! At first, you'll probably only notice how Tito's smooth vocals caress economically written, melodically-rich numbers like Chévere, Cara de Payaso and Cuando Cuando, not to mention his usual stellar work on the boleros. But after a while, you'll notice that his band, which on this recording features a young Eddie Palmieri, is playing the hell out of this finely arranged material, with crisp, precise percussion breaks and flowing horn lines. This is required listening for all neophytes. And if you know this music and don't own this album, your penance is to buy this album and do some salsa soul-searching to find out where you've gone wrong.

ROBERTO ROENA Y SU APOLLO SOUND
Apollo Sound VI
CD (Fania 473) 1974 Release. Reissued 1993.
Wow! THE Apollo Sound album. To quote Donnie Brasco, FUHGEDABOUTIT! This album has it all-great arrangements, inspired playing and superb songs. You'll be hooked from the opening notes of El que Se Fue and by the time Herencia Rumbera comes to a crackling, brass-torched end, you'll be ready to buy all of the Apollo Sound albums. Roena's singers, while not mind-blowing, do a fine job throughout. But what makes this album so great are the arrangements (many of which were by the great Jorge Millet), the surprises, like the electric guitar in Que Se Sepa or the hip, New Orleans-style intro to Herencia Rumbera (a tune also powered by Endel Dueño's fiery, often imitated but never duplicated timbales solo), not to mention the snap, crackle and pop opening and interludes in Traición. This is album I recommend to all of the neophytes to this music, because it captures the energy, verve and joy that make this music so addictive.


ROBERTO ROENA Y SU APOLLO SOUND
Lucky 7
CD (International 907) 1976 Release.
Just when you thought they couldn't top their seminal work, Apollo Sound VI, the boys came back full of surprises. Again, the we see the same qualities that typified Apollo Sound-witty musical interludes, well-crafted arrangements and superior song selection. Que Me Castigue Dios features a vocal cameo by an up and coming Rubén Blades and is a great tune to listen to if you just broke with somebody who did you wrong. La Mala Maña is one of my all-time favorite merengues, featuring a hip, controlled groove, funny lyrics and nice solos, light years away from contemporary merengue, which sounds like the soundtrack to a schizophrenic's thought patterns. But there's more. Me le Fugué a la Candela is roof raising salsa with those special Apollo sound wrinkles thrown in. A Bailar mi Bomba is modernized Puerto Rican funk, a testimony to the rhythmic variation we enjoyed before salsa was taken over by the current Teenage Mutant Ninja bonitillos and their salsa en lata sounds. Do yourself a favor and buy this album, you'll get your money's worth and more.

ROBERTO ROENA Y SU APOLLO SOUND
Roberto Roena Y Su Apollo Sound 5
CD (Fania 443) 1973 Release.
Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Not that I'm trying to influence your purchase decision or anything, but I think this one should be flying into your shopping cart. Why? Here goes: this is classic, and I mean freaking classic (this would be the technical term) 70s salsa recording. Roberto and crew really hit their stride in this album, grooving through Cui Cui, funking up you with Oriza Eh and Que Se Sepa, kidding you a bit with their ever-hip version of Asunción, then roaring at you with Avísale a Mi Contrario. Aquellos que Dicen is tough as well, but not as breakneck as Avísale. Then comes a rope a dope: the mellow son montuno La Marunga and the bolero Sólo Contigo Basta, followed by an assault on your senses called Ponte Duro, an old-fashioned, testosterone-fueled descarga. So, to recap: Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it. Just buy it.

MONGO SANTAMARIA
Drums And Chants
CD (Vaya 56) 1978 Release. Reissued 1994.
Originally released as "Changó" in the 50s. With Patato, Willie Bobo, Silvestre Mendez and Julito Collazo. A classic.
Rumbero alert! This may be the greatest rumba album ever recorded in the United States. Mongo, always progressive, adds a flute, a haunting counterpoint to the hottest licks played north of Havana at the time this album was recorded in the 1950s. Silvestre Méndez is on vocals, and he is spectacular, riffing with incendiary sabor over Mongo, Willie Bobo, Patato and Julito Collazo's eloquent drums. The guaguancó Margarito opens up the set, followed by wicked columbias like Caumbia and Ritmo Columbia. Mongo also takes time to pay his respects to the orishas with tunes like Ochún and Yroco, and even delves into the music of the Náñigo sect, which is a Afro-Cuban religious/fraternal organization that in some respects is similar to the Masons, on the tune Abakuá Ecu Sagare. The variety continues with Druma Kuyi, which is perfect for a drunken singalong at 3 a.m., Oromiso, another Yoruba-inflected tune, and Consejo al Vive Bien, which features great playing and lyrics with rumbero in-joke commentary. He tops it off with Conga Manía, a fiery hardcore comparsa. Perfect for drumming students and aficionados of Afro-Cuban funk.

TIPICA '73
Charangueando Con La Tipica '73
CD (Fania 560) 1980 Release.
One of the most enjoyable charanga albums I've ever heard. Once Busco Una Chiquita fills the room, the only feet that won't automatically tap have a toe tag attached to them. It's a blast throughout. No deep thinking lyrics, just old-fashioned tunes reinterpreted by one of the greatest bands of all time. Songs like Cachita are given new life with Alfredo de la Fe's violin swirling between sharp trumpets and rock-steady percussion work by the great Nicky Marrero. A young José Alberto shows off his vocal talents on several tunes, but this is really about a talented team working together, not individuals. Besides charanga-style son, Típica also plays a killer chachachá (Chanchullo) and a smoking comparsa medley (Comparsas). You won't have to scavenge your way through this one to find a tune you like. All you have to do is hit PLAY and Típica will take care of the rest. Buen provecho.

TIPICA '73
Tipica '73
CD (Inca I 1031) 1973 Release.
The album that started it all for a group that some people considered to be musical outcasts in 1972. That was when several members of Ray Barretto's band, among them timbalero extraordinaire Orestes Vilató and all-time great sonero Adalberto Santiago, left the group. They had been jamming in a club called And Vinnie's with some other talented musicians like Sonny Bravo, Johnny Rodríguez, and Nestor González. Liking they way they sounded together, they decided to branch out on their own. This first album firmly established them as stars and is indeed the cornerstone for the argument that Típica 73 is one of the greatest bands of all time. Where do I start, where do I start? How about with track one?

Mañonó is a rather silly old Cuban song that Típica works its magic on and brings to danceable life. Adalberto displays his romantic feel in a bolero medley of two classics, La Noche de Anoche and Cada Vez Más. No Volveré is a snappy charanga tune, perfect for some old school stepping, and Asere Boncó is a rollicking guaracha peppered by Orestes' machine gun timbales. Tintorera is a classically done son montuno and Son de la Loma is a beautiful bridge between pre-Castro Cuba and early seventies New York. Aprende is a mean tune whose rhythm I have trouble pinpointing, but it reminds of old-style songo., and Descarga '73 is what it's all about, cutting loose. It's the kind of album that's hard to get tired of, because you keep finding new shades of sabor every time you listen to it.

BEBO VALDES
Mucho Sabor
CD (Palladium PCD 5123) Reissued 1989. (IMPORT)
Alabao, what an album!!! This is the classic Cuban sound from start to finish. The great Pío Leyva is on vocals for a lot of these tunes, and what a groove these guys cooked up. Merengues No, in addition to being my anthem in life (my other anthem is "Techno is one of the warning signs of the Apocalypse", but that's another story), is a great uptempo guaracha. Bebo's version of the tune Celia made famous, Canto a La Habana, is excellent in its own right, with a rollicking arrangement and another great vocal by Pío. Other standout tunes include Tirando Tiro, a classic 50s simple song with a dubious message (hey bartender, give me more rum) and great music behind it, plus Pon Por Mí, another nice guaracha, and the pretty boleros Insensible Corazón and El Destino lo Quiso Así. This is by far my favorite Bebo album, and a must for serious collectors.

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Canciones Mi Mama No Me Enseño - Spanish Songs Mama Never Taught Me
CD (Tico 1111) 1964 Release. Reissued 1994.
I'm a rather vulgar, crass individual, so I consider this a great party record. It's basically full of double-entendre songs, like Miguelito Valdés' proctologic song, El Cubanito. Juanita Saca la Mano is a strong guaguancó powered by Miguelito's incredible pipes and I'm sure you'll figure out what the song is about just by the title. Overall, this one is good-humored, and though a bit crass, a lot of fun. If such humor was good enough for Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales, then it's good enough for you and definitely worth the price tag.

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Más Canciones Mi Mama No Me Enseño - More Songs Mama Never Taught Me
CD (Tico 1120) 1971 Release. Reissued 1993.
More of what is in volume one. Highlights include Guantanamera, which Miguelito Valdés has a lot of fun with, Cocherito with Santos Colón and Tito Puente teaming up for a short, risqué tune, and one of my all-time favorite tunes, No Voy Más Contigo al Cine. Graciela handles the vocals, with the help of what seems to be a good friend (they certainly get VERY friendly on this record) and the Machito band, which sounds as powerful as ever. I burned these tunes out on my radio show, especially the last one. Lucky for me the station manager didn't know Spanish. In any case, this album features the classic sounds of top bands like Joe Cuba, Puente, Machito, et al, with a bunch of raunchy lyrics. A refreshing change from today's sound, which I strongly suspect is, like everything else, made in Taiwan.



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