In the history of Afro-Cuban based dance music, Ray Barretto’s Rican/Struction stands as one of its brightest beacons. Its clever title and Izzy Sanabria/Jorge Vargas cover art ode to the Lilliputians of Gulliver’s Travels literally Rican-Structing Ray’s right hand speaks not only to the music, but to Ray’s ever evolving career as a performer, bandleader, composer, visionary and his response to adversity. By the early 70’s, the majority of his band had quit to form Tipica 73. Starting with INDESTRUCTIBLE and the subsequent album called BARRETTO, Ray re-established himself with hit tunes like Indestructible and Guarare. ...MORE >
In the history of Afro-Cuban based dance music, Ray Barretto’s Rican/Struction stands as one of its brightest beacons. Its clever title and Izzy Sanabria/Jorge Vargas cover art ode to the Lilliputians of Gulliver’s Travels literally Rican-Structing Ray’s right hand speaks not only to the music, but to Ray’s ever evolving career as a performer, bandleader, composer, visionary and his response to adversity. By the early 70’s, the majority of his band had quit to form Tipica 73. Starting with INDESTRUCTIBLE and the subsequent album called BARRETTO, Ray re-established himself with hit tunes like Indestructible and Guarare. In 1976, at NYC’s Beacon Theater, Ray recorded and released through a special arrangement Fania had made with Atlantic Records, BARRETO LIVE – TOMORROW. It gave Ray the opportunity to reach a wider audience through jazz-oriented material mixed with R&B and funk with Afro-Cuban and Brazilian elements. By 1978 Ray was at the height of his public popularity. But after three albums and little commercial crossover success, it would all come to a crashing end while sitting in his parked car. He was rear ended by another automobile. The force of the blow hyper-extended his neck and the thumb in his right hand which was on the steering wheel. Not only did it break it, it severed the tendons connecting it to his entire arm. A painful recovery of almost two years followed where he didn’t perform. This dark period in Ray’s life finally ended with the album/CD you are holding in your hand.
As has always been part of Ray’s history, he was constantly re-inventing himself and this time was no exception. He would re-form his dance oriented band with young, fresh players performing hip, progressive arrangements. Two of those players were fellow Nuyoricans who were in their early twenties when they were asked to join Barretto's new group. Barrio-born, Brooklyn-bred, timbalero Ralph Irizarry and Bronx-born and bred pianist, arranger, Oscar Hernández.
“It was a dream come true to play with Ray. I was big fan of his from way back when and the timbale chair was always a prestigious one in Ray’s group” states Irizarry. “Marty Aret, the manager of the Corso ballroom had told him about me and he came on a snowy night in January to see me play with Charanga Novedades. Three months later I was recording and playing with him for 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden. Ray was always challenging the musicians to extend themselves in service to the music. On Rican/Struction he wanted me to add to the basic timbale setup a bass drum, floor tom, two cymbals and a snare drum. I had never done that before. But Ray’s tenacity and his faith in me, even when I doubted that I could do it, triumphed. I will be forever grateful to him for having faith in me.”
Oscar Hernández had already been establishing himself as a pianist with such well known soneros as Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Ismael Miranda, and groups like Manny Oquendo & Libre and flautist Dave Valentin. But it was in Barretto’s band that as he states, “I was thrown into the fire and given the opportunity to grow and soar as a musician. When you’re talking about Ray, you’re talking about a person who knew the entire history of jazz. He had a great concept as a bandleader. Ray wanted the band to be super hip, harmonically progressive and have a hardcore mazacote (swinging, tight, powerful rhythm). Rican/Struction was also where I first really appeared as an arranger.” Ralph comments reinforce Oscar’s. “If you played in Ray’s band, you knew that everyone in the group would be featured in every performance as a soloist.” This “jazz aesthetic” that Ray exuded throughout his entire career as a bandleader helped him to expand his audience by being one of the first salsa oriented groups to be invited to perform in major jazz festivals in Europe and beyond.
“We did a lot of things on Rican/Struction that in my opinion hadn’t been done before,” states Irizarry. Examples of that can be immediately heard on the Johnny Ortiz penned son/guaracha composition, Al Ver Sus Campos which addresses the sorrow of a native Puerto Rican seeing his land destroyed. The Oscar Hernández penned arrangement also features him in a beautifully constructed solo that shows his harmonic sophistication. During the course of the tune, vocalist, Adalberto Santiago’s improv, “El Jibarito lloro” is done as a cierre (break) in unison with the entire rhythm section.
The up tempo commentary on lost love, Un Dia Sere Feliz, opens to the rhythm of guaguancó with a backdrop of muted trumpets that breaks into a hardcore montuno. Again, another Hernández arrangement adds progressive touches as the group suddenly goes into a transitional section which features electric bassist Sal Cuevas altering the instruments sound with the use of an electronic device known as a flanger. Trombonist Papo Vasquez solo explodes over a modal vamp that exemplifies the NYC approach to Afro-Cuban based music - in your face, take no prisoners.
Agustin Lara’s Piensa En Mi is a gorgeous bolero which features the sultry side of Adalberto Santiago’s vocals, one that he rarely gets credit for. Long time friend and confidant of Ray, George Rivera, gives us some insight. “After the trauma in the early 70’s of Ray’s band quitting and forming Tipica 73, Adalberto finally approached Ray to make peace with him. His return for the Rican/Struction project was a great reunion of an old friendship.” Edy Martinez’s lush arrangement features saxophonist Todd Anderson on flute playing lyrically in the instruments mid-range.
Ya Vez is an up-tempo guaracha/son from the pen of Pablo Milanes that is an ode to one’s thoughts of a loved one. Another masterful arrangement by Edy Martinez is provided as the band explodes in the montuno (vamp for solos) and Hernández is again featured on piano in a real tasty approach that begs to be extended. Check out Sal Cuevas utilization of pop and slap technique from funk on the electric bass in an Afro-Cuban based rhythmic context along with his masterful use of double stops (playing two notes simultaneously) on the instrument. Sal’s approach would re-define Afro-Cuban bass playing and influence a whole new generation of players.
T. Curet Alonso’s composition Adelante Siempre Voy is an ode to Cuba’s song form, the son, which is the core/root of what today is known as salsa. But its deeper meaning celebrates Ray’s progressive spirit as its lyrics speak to enduring pain, tragedy and suffering, but always moving forward to the sound of the son. Legendary pianist and arranger Gil Lopez provides the perfect framework in his arrangement. It showcases the hard driving swing of Barretto’s band and Ray’s conga solo signaled his return as a force to be reckoned with on the dance floor.
The masterwork on this album is Algo Nuevo, composed and arranged by jazz tenor saxophonist Dick “Taco” Mesa. Done to the rhythm of cha-cha-cha, its progressive harmonies, bebop inspired extended horn runs, double time figures, quirky breaks and ode to charanga style vocals showcases the virtuosity of the band. José Fajardo, an iconic figure in the history of Cuban flute, makes a special guest appearance as a “tipico” soloist in contrast to the contemporary jazz approach of Todd Anderson on tenor. An orchestrated horn solo in the arrangement has a special memory for Oscar. “I remember that that was a difficult thing for the horns to play and Sal had a bug up his butt that he had to play it even though it wasn’t written for him. He learned it by ear and played the hell out of it!”
The album closes with a Ray Barretto composition entitled Tumbao Africano arranged by Oscar which features rhythms such as NYC style Mozambique, Yoruba drumming, mambo and son montuno. An ode to the birth place of civilization and the rhythms we all dance to, it opens with the double headed ceremonial drums of the Yoruba from Nigeria, Africa known as the batá, as played by guest percussionists Little Ray Romero and Edy Rodriguez. Todd Anderson, featured here on a soprano sax solo, again brings forth Ray’s jazz sensibilities as the rhythm team of Luis Gonzales on bongó and cencerro (hand held cowbell), Ralph Irizarry on timbales and Ray on congas puts the ensemble into overdrive while Adalberto sings to the music of the Gods that have inspired us all. A fitting finale to an album that was the harbinger of things to come and re-affirmed Ray’s love for great musicianship and progressive thinking, all in service to two entities - the listener as well as the dancer in all of us.
Bobby Sanabria, March 2006
Drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, educator Bobby Sanabria is a fellow Nuyorican and a two time Grammy nominee for his own recordings. He is the leader of Quarteto Aché, Ascensión and his Grammy nominated Bobby Sanabria Big Band. He has been featured on several of Ray’s recordings.
Produced by Ray Barretto
Executive Producer: Jerry Masucci
Recording Engineer: Irv Greenbaum
Recorded at La Tierra Sound Studios, NYC spring of 1979, originally released in the summer of 1979
Album Cover Concept and Design: Izzy Sanabria
Album Cover Illustration: Jorge Vargas
Lead vocals, maracas, guiro and clave – Adalberto Santiago
Coro/background vocals – Adalberto Santiago, Tito Allen, Luis Gonzalez, Ray De La Paz
Trumpets – José Jeréz, Puchi Boulong, Hector “Bomberito” Zarzuela, José Febles
Trombone – Papo Vasquez
Tenor and soprano saxophones and flute – Todd Anderson
Acoustic piano on all tunes except Fender Rhodes electric piano on “Piensa en Mi” and “Algo Nuevo” – Oscar Hernández
Electric bass, acoustic bass on “Piensa en Mi” – Sal Cuevas
Flute solo on “Algo Nuevo” – José Fajardo
Iyá batá drum on “Tumbao Africano” – “Little Ray” Romero
Itotele batá drum on “Tumbao Africano”- Eddie Rodriguez
Bongó and cencerro – Louis Gonzalez
Timbales, snare drum, floor tom- tom, bass drum , cowbells, cymbals set up – Ralph Irizarry
Congas – Ray Barretto
Al Ver Sus Campos, Un Dia Sere Feliz and Tumbao Africano – Oscar Hernández
Piensa En Mi and Ya Vez – Edy Martinez
Adelante Siempre Voy – Gil Lopez
Algo Nuevo – Dick “Taco” Mesa LESS >