Raymond Barretto (April 29, 1929 - February 17, 2006) was, like one of his old employers, maestro Tito Puente, the quintessential Nuyorican, a person of Puerto Rican descent born and raised in New York City. It gave Ray the advantage of growing up with his own native Puerto Rican culture and that of Afro-Cuban music and jazz. By the age of 2, his family had moved from the Red Hook section of Brooklyn to Manhattan's eastside enclave of Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Italian culture, El Barrio, aka Spanish Harlem. At 7 he would move to the South Bronx. ...MORE >
Raymond Barretto (April 29, 1929 - February 17, 2006) was, like one of his old employers, maestro Tito Puente, the quintessential Nuyorican, a person of Puerto Rican descent born and raised in New York City. It gave Ray the advantage of growing up with his own native Puerto Rican culture and that of Afro-Cuban music and jazz. By the age of 2, his family had moved from the Red Hook section of Brooklyn to Manhattan's eastside enclave of Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Italian culture, El Barrio, aka Spanish Harlem. At 7 he would move to the South Bronx. His boyhood friends would include pianist Eddie Palmieri, bassist Dave Perez, timbaleros Orlando Marín, Manny Oquendo, Mike Collazo, Benny Bonilla, and record store owner and producer Al Santiago. The blind virtuoso of the Cuban tres, Arsenio Rodríguez, would invite him to participate in rumbas at his apartment or the Club Cubano on Prospect Avenue.
In the late 1940's while in the Army, Ray fell in love with jazz. Inspired by Dizzy Gillespie's recording of "Manteca", which featured Chano Pozo on conga, Ray would return to NYC and begin working with Eddie Bonnemere, Jose' Curbelo and Tito Puente, as well as numerous jazz artists on recordings. Becoming a bandleader in the early 1960's, he had success with a charanga-style ensemble (a Cuban dance band that utilizes flute and violins) and a highly successful tune, "El Watusi," that crossed over to the pop charts. Ray signed with Fania Records in 1965 and was given complete freedom to express his love for Cuban-based dance music combined with a jazz aesthetic. Ray stated, "Jazz has always been at the core of what I do musically." That approach is heard in full force on this compilation.
"Espíritu Libre” starts with an instrumental incantation that breaks into a West African rooted rhythm known as bembé. It features trumpeters René Lopez and Roberto Rodríguez performing some pretty avant garde solos. The Chano Pozo/Dizzy Gillispie composition, "Tin Tin Deo," is a definite tribute to two of Ray's heroes. It features Ray's virtuosity on congas and a then young fellow Bronx Nuyorican, bassist Andy González. "Abidjan" is Ray's tribute to the beautiful Ivory Coast city in West Africa and features the magic of Orestes Vilató on timbales. Barretto's, "Power," begins with a funky piano and bass intro that has been sampled by hip hop DJ's the world over and features trumpeter René Lopez, pianist Louis Cruz, Ray and Vilató. "Cocinando" with its captivating electric piano vamp, is a showcase for René Lopez's muted trumpet solo and the explosive rhythm team of Barretto, Vilató and Johnny Rodríguez on bongó. "Lucretia The Cat," "Round Midnight" and "Oración" are all from the only pure jazz album Ray recorded for Fania Records, The Other Road. The addition of Panamanian jazz-rock drumming legend, Billy Cobham and fellow Panamanian Guillermo Edgehill on electric bass, makes these tunes explode. The Rúben Blades composition, "Canto Abacuá," is a mini-suite in three movements dedicated to the semi-secret Abacuá fraternity of Cuba. Opening with a free section followed by a rumba abierta, featuring the great Ray Romero on quinto (solo drum,) it closes with an intense son-mambo featuring the legendary Gil Lopez on electric piano.
"Algo Nuevo" is a tour de force composition and arrangement by Dick "Taco" Mesa. It features tempo and style changes, complex breaks, and some stellar playing by pianist Oscar Hernandez, bassist Sal Cuevas, timbalero Ralph Irizarry, tenor saxophonist Todd Anderson along with some guest flute work by Cuba's Jose' Fajardo. The great New Orleans pianist, Jelly Roll Morton, once said that if jazz didn't have the right amount of Latin tinge, it wasn't jazz. With Ray, the opposite was true. Without the right amount of jazz, the music he recorded for Fania wouldn't have been his own. In January of 2006, Ray was given the National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master Award. The highest award a jazz musician can achieve in the United States, it was a fitting tribute to this son of Brooklyn, El Barrio, the Bronx, and jazz.