On a warm night during the spring of 2005, I attended a function with Ray Barretto in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx in New York City. The event brought together such luminaries as Orlando Marín, Manny Oquendo, Benny Bonilla, Andy González, and Ray for a symposium on the evolution of Latino music. Afterwards, while we were deciding where to go for a late dinner, I asked Ray to accompany me to my car. I had with me a three-CD collection of his music, which was done for a project that the late Jerry Masucci had been considering. The collection included songs culled from Ray’s Fania recordings, from Acid to Que Viva La Música. The project focused on these specific recordings because they involved mostly the same personnel. It was the period that Ray, together with many of his fans, considered to be the most creative of his career. We ended up sitting in the car for approximately three hours, listening to all the songs in the collection, with Ray offering a story for every tune.
The Message was considered by Ray to be the culmination of a long relationship with the musicians in this particular band. Ray thought that this rhythm section, comprised of Luis Cruz (piano), Andy González (bass), Orestes Vilató (timbales), John “Dandy” Rodríguez (bongo), and himself to be the best one that he ever led. Add the three trumpets of Roberto Rodríguez, Papy Román and René López, plus the voice of Adalberto Santiago, and you get the very essence of this music: pure swing. This lineup would subsequently record one more album (Que Viva La Música), but Ray thought that The Message was its most important session.
I had the opportunity to discuss this release with John “Dandy” Rodríguez during a recent conversation; he recalled that this was a very creative period for the band. The Message came out in 1972, when the Latin music scene was reaching a peak. The level of musicianship was higher than ever, something that Johnny attributes to Ray’s knack for finding the right tunes to feature the band as a whole, as well as each individual musician. During this period, Andy González was truly locking in the rhythm with his percussive approach to the bass - it was almost as if a second conguero had been added to the band.
Hunger would bring an end to the aforementioned listening session. As a result of the conversation that took place during the meal that followed, plans began to take shape for a reunion of this exceptional ensemble. Ray was re-energized. Up until then, he was consumed by jazz. Now, he was on a mission to see if he could once again achieve the sound that was so dear to him. The first test would come during the 2005 JVC Jazz Festival in New York. This event took place at Carnegie Hall, and also featured Eddie Palmieri. Ray opened the show with his jazz ensemble and then switched to his salsa band. He opened the salsa set with "La Hipocresía Y La Falsedad," and when the pianist launched into the introduction of the tune, the crowd reacted with a rousing round of applause.
As fate would have it, Ray would not live to participate in the reunion of that particular lineup, which took place in the Fall of 2006. As Ray de la Paz told the audience, though, Ray's spirit was present in every song that was performed during that memorable evening.
René López - Trumpet
Roberto Rodríguez – Trumpet
“Papy” Román – Trumpet
Orestes Vilató – Timbal
John “Dandy” Rodríguez – Bongo
Luis Cruz – Piano
Andy González – Bass
Ray Barretto – Congas
Lead Singer – Adalberto Santiago
Producer – Ray Barretto
Executive Producer – Jerry Masucci
Recorded at – La Tierra Sound Studios, NYC
Engineer – Irv Greenbaum
Original Album Design – Izzy Sanabria
Original Cover Photo – José Flores