There is a general consensus among Johnny Pacheco about the fact that of all the albums that the Dominican bandleader and flutist recorded together with his favorite compadre, the late sonero Pete El Conde Rodríguez, "Tres De Café Y Dos De Azúcar" is the very best one. Listening to the remastered edition of this 1973 session, it's hard to disagree.
Recorded just before El Conde embarked on a solo career with Pacheco's blessing, this session encapsulates the very essence of the bandleader's artistry: his undying love for vintage Cuban music, the utter simplicity and devastating swing of his arrangements, and the placement of his orchestra at the service of El Conde's chocolaty vocals.
From the sinuous trumpet riffs of “El Piro de Farra” and the nasal harmonies of “Harina Con Boniato” to the infectious joy in Pacheco's self-penned merengue “Los Diablitos” (a tribute to the maestro's Dominican heritage) and the deep guaguancó vibe of the opener “Primoroso Cantar”, "Tres De Café Y Dos De Azúcar" is a self-contained masterpiece of undiluted Afro-Cuban flavor. Its title is not coincidental- the collection's ten songs are as sweet and potent as a cup of strong coffee with lots of sugar.
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Pacheco was mesmerized by the songs that he would hear on Cuban radio, the gems from the golden era of the island's music as performed by Orquesta Aragón, Arcaño y sus Maravillas and Arsenio Rodríguez.
Understandably, Pacheco decided to cover many of these classic Cuban tunes when he began his own musical career. After a stint with Charlie Palmieri's seminal Duboney charanga, the flutist launched a solo career with his own band on the Alegre label. In 1964, he founded Fania together with attorney Jerry Masucci.
As co-founder of the company, stellar solo artist and musical director with the Fania All Stars, Pacheco had a huge influence on much of the music that was recorded in New York during the '60s, '70s and '80s. A composer blessed with a strong melodic instinct and an irresistible sense of humor, he wrote instant hits for Héctor Lavoé, Celia Cruz and, of, course, El Conde himself.
When it came time to adapt the old Cuban nuggets, Pacheco's treatment was subtle and reverential. Consider his version of the timeless bolero “La Gloria Eres Tú”, included on this collection. The vocals by Pete El Conde are wonderfully solemn, whereas the interplay between brass instruments is expertly calibrated. Velvety touches of piano add a touch of melodrama to the procedures.
In effect, Pacheco acted both as a tradionalist and an innovator. When he switched from the charanga to the more dynamic conjunto format, he baptized his new group Pacheco y su Nuevo Tumbao. At the same time, he made the venerable pages of the old Cuban songbook known to a new generation of young listeners who were attuned to the urban salsa revolution of the '70s. In the hands of Pacheco, the old became cool again.
Some of Pacheco's fellow artists of the salsa era followed a wildly experimental approach. Rubén Blades added social themes to a music that was originally meant strictly for dancing. Eddie Palmieri brought dissonance and electronics to the table. Roberto Roena flirted with funk and American r&b. Larry Harlowcomposed a salsa opera.
Pacheco's albums, on the other hand, were never as openly innovative. Interestingly, they have survived the test of time better than some of the more daring experiments of other artists. Pacheco knew how to lock his orchestra in a tight groove. He knew that El Conde's syrupy voice would never fail him. And he knew that the Cuban inspired music that he grew up loving was as flavorful and addictive as a cup of coffee made with "tres de café y dos de azúcar."
Written by Ernesto Lechner
Ponle Punto / Johnny Pacheco & Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez
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