Fania Records, 1973 ...MORE >
Fania Records, 1973
The year 1973 was both a successful and stressful time for Ray Barretto. His band had developed a loyal following among dancers of the new Afro-Cuban-based music known as salsa. He had achieved success as a composer with Cocinando, the theme song for the Fania produced movie Our Latin Thing. But his band’s explosive rhythm team of Orestes Vilato on timbales, Johnny Rodriguez on bongó and cencerro, bassist Dave Perez, pianist Louis Crúz, along with trumpeter René Lopez and vocalist Adalberto Santiago would eventually all leave him. “I was heartbroken. We had developed what every bandleader wants—a sound,” Barretto said.
But Barretto was undaunted and would rebuild. He would call upon an old friend, trumpeter Roberto Rodriguez, who had decided to stay. Fellow trumpeter Joseph “Papy” Roman also remained, and Barretto would form a new group that would re-define Barretto’s sound and re-affirm his position as a band leader.
He also called upon veteran percussionist and friend “Little” Ray Romero, a giant among drummers. To Romero’s wealth of knowledge, Barretto would add another veteran, Tony Fuentes on bongó and cencerro (handbell). Finally, the piano chair would be filled by one of Barretto’s first pianists, Colombian-born Edy Martinez.
Martinez brought special attributes to the group. He was steeped in the harmonic vocabulary of jazz, a key element to Barretto’s aesthetic. This would manifest itself in the Fania recording, The Other Road. This purely contemporary jazz-oriented record also featured Panamanian super drummer Billy Cobham with fellow Panamanian Guillermo Edgehill on electric bass. Barretto’s new trumpet section now featured Manny Duran, a superb jazz soloist, anchored by Papy Roman and the soaring lead trumpet work of Barretto stalwart, Roberto Rodriguez.
Although The Other Road was an artistic success, Fania was ill prepared to market such a disc and Barretto’s loyal fans were disappointed. The idea was to return with a recording that would re-affirm Barretto’s position as a major force on the salsa scene. Barretto wrote new compositions and sought out others that expressed his new found spirit, changing the sound of his band in the process.
To the already explosive brass and rhythm section, Barretto would add flautist and newcomer Artie Webb. With the flute an octave above the lead trumpet, the brass would sound even more powerful. Barretto now could explore authentic interpretations of repertoire that normally would be associated with charanga (flute and violin) groups and not brass-based conjuntos, a throwback to his days as a leader of his Charanga Moderna. Julio Romero would on Ampeg baby bass, which provided a powerful underpinning to Barretto’s mighty tumbao’s (repetitive rhythms).
The final ingredient was to find a new lead singer that would be different from Santiago but still have the soneo (improv) skills so key in salsa. The answer was Puerto Rican-born Tito Allen. The fact that Allen was also a bassist, as was Santiago, is another connecting thread in this fascinating story. Allen’s vocal work on this album is superb and thrust him into the spotlight.
But a return with new repertoire, a new band and a new sound needed to be sold to Barretto’s old fans. Art director for Fania, Izzy Sanabria, came up with the Superman concept for the cover. Indestructible announced the return of Ray Barretto to the salsa scene in a big way. The combination of flute and three trumpets was something never before done. Opening with Tite Curet Alonzo’s up tempo El Hijo De Obatala was a perfect starter. The ode to the Yoruba deity in Santeria/Ifá was tailor-made for Barretto, who although not a practitioner of Santería, has always paid respect to the West African spiritual and rhythmic roots of the music in his work. A brief, funky piano solo by Edy Martinez announces Barretto’s solo. It’s a remarkable work of virtuosity, exploding with an opening continuous roll that lasts a full 17 bars with accents and open tones thrown in at surprising moments. He had finally developed his own style.
The burning laid back son montuno El Diablo harkens back to one of Barretto’s early inspirations, Arsenio Rodriguez. Yo Tengo Un Amor by Rafael Hernández is a beautiful bolero-cha that evokes Barretto’s charanga roots. La Familia is another up-tempo guaracha with elements of danzónette. Meñique and Hector Lavoe’s close-knit coro (chorus) work are the perfect framework for Tito Allen’s soneos (vocal improvs).
Roberto Rodriguez’s La Orquesta is a guapacha (up tempo cha-cha-cha) dedicated to Barretto’s band that harkens to his charanga days. Llanto de Cocodrilo is an up-tempo guaracha that addresses a woman who has put a brother through some changes. Allen handles the defiant lyrics with verve, vigor and in pure guaracha fashion—sarcasm. Roberto Rodriguez explodes in the montuno (solo) section with a short but all-too-brief solo. Ay No is another son montuno with a driving medium tempo. Edy Martinez’s elegant solo on piano is a prelude to a funky eight-bar solo by timbalero Ray Romero with Roberto Rodriguez closing with some nice exchanges.
The closing title cut, Indestructible, sums up the theme of this album--con sangre nueva, with new blood. The result was a driving, in-your-face up-tempo guaracha that was Barretto’s answer to the heartbreak of his previous band quitting. The climax on this track is Ray Romero’s now legendary 44-bar timbale solo. Indestructible, the song, defined Ray Barretto, the man, to his fans. That it became his other sobriquet, besides Manos Duras (Hard Hands), was no surprise.
Ray Barretto – Indestructible
Ray Barretto - congas, clave, musical director
“Little” Ray Romero – timbales
Tony Fuentes – bongo and cencerro
Edy Martinez – piano
Julio Romero – Ampeg baby bass
Art “Artie” Webb – flute
Roberto Rodriguez – lead trumpet
Joseph “Papy” Roman – second trumpet
Manuel “Manny” Duran – third trumpet and flugelhorn
Maracas – Possibly Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez
Felo Barrio – Guiro on Yo Tengo Un Amor and La Orquesta
Tito Allen - lead vocals
Coro (background vocals) – Meñique and Hector Lavoe on all cuts except on Yo Tengo Un Amor and La Orquesta – Roberto Rodriguez and Felo Barrio
El Hijo De Obatalá – Willie Colón and Hector Lavoe
Produced by Ray Barretto
Executive Producer Jerry Masucci
Recorded at Good Vibrations Sound Studios, 1440 Broadway, New York City
Engineered by Jon Fausty
Original album design and concept Izzy Sanabria
Supershirt construction by Walter Velez/WE-2 Graphic Designs, Inc.
Original cover photo by Roberto Schneider