"Pretentious," "overblown," "lush," "symphonic," and "overproduced" are all adjectives that have been used to describe Solo. While there is some truth in all these expressions, there can be no doubt that the album is a formidable landmark in the history of New York salsa. However it took Willie Colón over 10 years since he burst onto the scene with his Fania Records debut album El Malo in 1967 to make his first wholly solo project. ...MORE >
(Fania 535), Released 1979;
Solo: Willie's Salsa Extravaganza
"Pretentious," "overblown," "lush," "symphonic," and "overproduced" are all adjectives that have been used to describe Solo. While there is some truth in all these expressions, there can be no doubt that the album is a formidable landmark in the history of New York salsa. However it took Willie Colón over 10 years since he burst onto the scene with his Fania Records debut album El Malo in 1967 to make his first wholly solo project.
His first 10 albums between 1967 and 1975 were made in partnership with Héctor Lavoe "The Singer of Singers," who was introduced into Colón’s band by Fania co-founder Johnny Pacheco, who disliked the voice of Tony Vázquez, the original vocalist with Colón’s Conjunto La Dinámica. When Colón quit the club circuit in 1974 and turned leadership of his band over to Lavoe so that he could concentrate on producing and arranging, his albums during the following four years continued to be produced in association with other lead singers. These included important collaborations with Mon Rivera (There Goes The Neighborhood/Se Chavo El Vecindario 1975 on Vaya Records), Rubén Blades (Metiendo Mano! 1977 and Siembra 1978, both on Fania) and Celia Cruz (Only They Could Have Made This Album 1977 on Vaya).
Though Colón had emerged from the coro section to sing lead vocals on three tracks of his Grammy-nominated The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (1975), Solo was the first time he employed his nasal, limited-range voice to carry an entire album as lead singer. Sacrificing dance-ability, never a priority for Colón, and with its plethora of ambient sounds, effects, and production wizardry from engineer Jon Fausty, the album was certified gold within three weeks of its release. As a measure of public acceptance, his 1979 performance at the Caracas El Poliedro Stadium broke all box office records. On the other hand, César Miguel Rondón, the erudite Venezuelan author of El Libro De La Salsa (1980), criticized Solo for its "painful sweetening and soap opera atmosphere."
Fania boss Jerry Masucci hired the revered arranger/composer Marty Sheller because he was concerned that Colón was taking too long writing the arrangements. Even though he is credited with most of the album's orchestrations, Sheller told David Carp in a 1998 interview for Descarga.com that he just performed the role of transcriber for Colón's ideas. "He did some writing for a larger orchestra and people come to me sometimes and say 'Man, I know that was you that wrote those string parts.' But it was all Willie," says Sheller.
The highly symphonic opener Nueva York, a bittersweet impressionistic piece about big city life arranged by classically trained bandleader and trumpeter Luís "Perico" Ortiz, sets the mood for Solo. Colón and Fausty recorded the ambient sounds featured in the track as well as in Juancito on location. Sin Poderte Hablar, sumptuously arranged by Héctor Garrido, was the biggest hit spawned by the album. Garrido also is responsible for the opulent arrangement of Mentiras Tuyas and is credited as co-arranger and orchestrator of the beautiful instrumental Chinacubana, Urubatan, Colonizaciones, and Julia are further instrumentals.
"Señora is a tour de force from Willie the songwriter," explains Ray Rosado, leader of Maña and a long-time observer of Colón's career. "It is a homage to women. He writes: “Only the love of a mother can save us…geniuses, saints, and presidents are molded by your labor.” In his first soneo he sings, “Today I want to congratulate my grandmother, my mother, my sister, and my wife.” This becomes especially poignant when you consider his only sibling, Cynthia, died of a drug overdose shortly after the album was recorded.
Juancito is another example of Colón's prowess as a composer. The song recounts the culture shock experienced by a Puerto Rican country boy moving to the Big Apple: "What bestiality, what insecurity, so much prosperity, so much brutality…damn loneliness, when will it end." Rubén Blades is even reputed to have praised the composition. Panamanian Mauricio Smith (1931-2002) takes a delightful flute solo towards the end of the track. Arranger extraordinaire Luís Cruz wrote the luxuriant chart for the final cut Tú Eres Tú.
Colón made three more solo albums before leaving Fania in the mid-1980s, including Fantasmas (1981), the platinum-winning follow-up to Solo. Further solo projects followed on RCA International, Sonotone, A&M, Fania (a one-off distribution deal), Sony, Fonovisa, and Lideres.
Composer and arranger of song titles:
Nueva York 6:18 (Willie Colón)
Arrangement: Luís Esteban Ortiz
Poem: Bernardo Fernández
Sin Poderte Hablar 5:28 (Willie Colón)
Arrangement: Héctor Garrido
Julia 4:00 (Willie Colón)
Arrangement: Willie Colón
Orchestration and string arrangement: Marty Sheller
Fender Rhodes: Willie Colón
Tú Eres Tú 6:26 (Willie Colón)
Arrangement: Luís Cruz
Sequence by Julia Colón
Willie Colón - musical director
Bobby Porcelli - alto sax/flute
Mauricio Smith - solo flute/piccolo
Ronnie Cuber – baritone sax/flute
Mario Rivera - baritone sax/flute
Leopoldo Pineda - trombone
Angel "Papo" Vázquez - trombone
Sam Burtis - bass trombone/tuba
John Fartis - trumpet
Tony Cofresi - trumpet
Luís Esteban Ortiz - trumpet
Héctor Zarzuela - trumpet
Willie Colón - bass trumpet
Professor Joe Torres - piano
Salvador Cuevas - bass/upright and fender
José Mangual Jr. - bongo
Eddie Montalvo - tumbadora
Jimmy Delgado - timbal
Yomo Toro - cuatro
Irving Spice String Ensemble -strings
Sound FX recorded live by Jon Fausty and Willie Colón on a Nagra Stereo Recorder
Salvador Cuevas, John Valente, Luís Cruz, and Héctor Garrido - Copyists
Adrien Albert, Willie Colón, Demaris Cortez, José Mangual Jr., Nestor Sánchez, Mariene Verplank, Cynthia Colón, and Ada Chabrier - Coro
Jon Fausty - recording director and engineer
Michael Frandelli, Bras Sauelsohn, Jim Gailante, and Gee Strongbear - assistants
Produced by: Willie Colón
Executive Producer: Jerry Masucci
Associate Producer: Fabian Ross
Photos: Francesco Scavullo