Like most of the collaborations between trombonist, composer and musical director Willie Colón and mercurial Puerto Rican singer Héctor Lavoé, the album that you hold in your hands transcends the boundaries of salsa. Released in 1970, "The Big Break" is a masterpiece of Latin music, the kind of formidable artistic statement that established the Fania label as a cultural icon-- going beyond the parameters of a company specializing in crowd pleasing dance music. Needless to say, this is still a great party album, filled with dance friendly classics such as “Barrunto” and “Abuelita”. At the same time, it crystallizes the Colón/Lavoé aesthetic that the duo had been developing on previous albums ("The Big Break" is Colón's sixth release on the Fania label.) Although they were years away from reaching the artistic zenith of future epics such as El Cantante and Periódico de Ayer, the songs on this collection express the combined strength of these visionary artists: Colón's weakness for an edgy, dangerous sound based on the roughness of his two-trombone lineup. The eclectic tendencies that had him adding revolutionary bits of Puerto Rican folklore on the six minute-long workout “Panameña”. And Lavoé's irresistible sense of humor, which becomes particularly apparent on his nostalgic remembrance of his grandmother (“Abuelita”) and her hilarious sayings. Most importantly, the songs on "The Big Break" evoke the duo's combined cosmovision, which regards life as a combination of reckless joy and profound tragedy. From the childlike wonder of “Ghana'E” and the grotesque mockery of “Canción Para Mi Suegra” to the fleshy swing of “Barrunto” and the morbid sadness of “No Cambiaré, this session is a roller coaster of intensity-- a symphony of contrasting flavors, colors and feelings. Perhaps the one moment that best encapsulates the transcendental qualities of this collection is the bridge of “Panameña”-- the moment when the tune stops on its tracks, Lavoé introduces la salsa de Puerto Rico, el aguinaldo (Puerto Rico's own salsa, the aguinaldo) and all hell breaks loose thanks to Colón's roaring trombone and the spidery piano lines courtesy of the maestro Profesor Joe Torres. The resulting effect is nothing less of apocalyptic. Of the many brilliant LP covers that graphic designer Izzy Sanabria designed for Fania (the Ray Barretto/Superman art for Indestructible comes immediately to mind), "The Big Break" may be the most notorious one. The art capitalized on Colón's ‘Malo’ image (he was initially called El Malo because the older musicians thought he was a poor trombone player, not a bad kid-- Willie then decided to use the gangster archetype as a gimmick.) This time, Sanabria flew with the idea and devised a cover that replicated a Wanted by the FBI poster. Only that the FBI in question was the Freaks of Bureau Investigation, Colón was armed with a trombone and was wanted for killing people... with his exciting rhythm. Using the project's limited budget to his advantage, the designer included a cheap photo of Colón and random fingerprints to create a realistic looking poster. After its release, the company was contacted by the real FBI, which requested that the ‘Wanted by FBI’ text be removed from the cover. Listening to these eight, timeless tracks decades after their original release, the music compels you to ask: how could two young men in their '20 have so much to say? How did they manage to record an album of such depth and beauty? It may be advisable to stop pondering such heady issues and enjoy the music instead. I know I will. Credits: Willie Colón – Leader, First Trombone Willie Campbell – Second Trombone Milton Cardona - Conga Louie “Timbalito” Romero - Timbales José Mangual – Bongo Joe “Profesor” Torres - Piano Santi González - Bass Lead Vocal – Hector Lavoe Producer – Jerry Masucci Recording Director – Johnny Pacheco Original Album Idea and Diseño– Izzy Sanabria Written by Ernesto Lechner
Known sarcastically as “the King of Punctuality,” for his innate inability to arrive to his shows on time, the Puerto Rican’s affable nature earned him the adoration of music lovers, who crammed into performance halls throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
I heard LaVoe tell his public many times, after arriving late to one of his own shows, “I’m not late – you’re all early.” Never once was I surprised to see the demanding salsa public continue to laugh at his antics, time and time again, and go on as though nothing had happened.
Although the young LaVoe sang with many orchestras after arriving in New York, his career truly took off when he began singing with Willie Colón, known back then as “El Malo.” The youngsters took on the role of musical gangsters, and with their clothing and charismatic performances, were able to gain enormous popularity throughout the Spanish-speaking world. They were the “bad boys” of salsa, and undoubtedly unique, accompanied by an orchestra of the highest quality, including musicians such as Milton Cordona and “Professor” Joe Torres.
After huge successes like “Che Che Colé,” “Barrunto,” “Todo tiene su final,” “Abuelita,” “Ausencia,” “Calle Luna, Calle Sol,” “Lola,” and many others, Willie Colón knew that musically, he and Héctor LaVoe had nothing left to prove. The young stars’ immediate success and the challenges that a life of stardom presented led Colón to contemplate new musical avenues. These did not include Héctor LaVoe.
Suddenly, and for the very first time, Héctor was faced with the task of proving himself as an artist in his own right and with his own orchestra. LaVoe wasn’t too sure about this new stage of his career. These new responsibilities – being in charge of personnel and leading his own musical group– were unfamiliar to him. For a fun-loving, inveterate party-goer like Héctor, this new role made him anxious.
However, his friend Willie Colón had not abandoned him. Colón remained at LaVoe’s side throughout the production of his new album, facilitating the difficult transition for the singer. The resulting album became an undisputed salsa classic.
On the album, Héctor LaVoe demonstrates his talent not only for Afro-Caribbean rhythms, but for bolero themes, with his rendition of “De ti depende,” penned by the well-loved boricua composer Miguel Angel Amadeo, based in the Bronx, New York. It is also the title track of the extended album.
Catalino “Tite” Curet Alonso’s number, “Periódico de ayer,” a well known classic that is still famous today, became a widespread success, making radio play lists across the world and becoming a favorite of the salsa genre.
“Vamos a reír un poco,” by Perucho Torcat, gave LaVoe the opportunity to showcase his talents as a first-rate sonero. This number has been celebrated by salsa musicians past and present, and will certainly continue to be a favorite among future salsa generations.
In “Hacha y machete,” LaVoe addresses his relationship with Willie Colón, singing, “lo nuestro no fue un golpe de suerte, somos hacha y machete, y esa es la verdad.” LaVoe acknowledges in the song that the stage of his career alongside his good friend had reached its end, but recognizes that their partnership was unique in the musical world. “Hacha y machete” was, without a doubt, Héctor and Willie.
The guaracha number “Mentira” rounds out the index of hits from this album. The rights to this Cuban song were held exclusively by the Fania label, as was the custom of those times, and brings a fabulous sound to the performance by “The Singer of All Singers.”
“Consejo de oro,” by Arquimedes Arcidiacono, and “Tanto como ayer,” “Derechos reservados,” and “Felices horas” by Luis A. Pérez, finish up this extended album.
In “De ti depende,” the Singer of All Singers, Héctor LaVoe, demonstrates for the first time his ability to step out as the leader of his own orchestra, seizing the moment in order to establish his position as the favorite among all Fania soneros.
The album you now hold in your hands caused a sensation in 1976. All these years later, it will still bring you back to the thrill of that historical moment, proving that the classic can survive the musical whims of any era. Fabulous then, fabulous now. Enjoy.
Personnel: Hector Lavoe – Lead Vocals & Maracas Jose Mangual Jr. – Bongos, Percussion & Chorus Milton Cardona – Conga, Percussion & Chorus Joe “Professor” Torres – Piano Angel “Papo” Vazquez – Trombone Ray Feliciano – Trumpet Santi “Choflomo” Gonzalez – Bass Yomo Toro – Tres Guitar Willie Colon – Chorus Ruben Blades – Chorus
Arrangements by: Willie Colon – Vamos A Reir Un Poco, Periodico De Ayer & Mentira Louie Ramirez – Consejo de Oro Louis “Perico” Ortiz – Tanto Como Ayer & Felices Horas Jose Febles – De Ti Depende Edwin Rodriguez – Hacha Y Machete
Recorded at Bell Sound Studios Engineered by: Jon Fausty Original Cover & Liner Photos by: Lee Marshall Original Album Design by: Ron Levine
Produced by: Willie Colon Executive Producer: Jerry Masucci
The hegemony of Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe in the circuit of rising youth bands in New York around the middle of the 1960s was consolidated at the end of 1969 with the launch of the LP “Cosa Nuestra”.
The cover photograph, a Henri Wolfe original, recreates a typical crime scene of the mafia and the underworld: a murder which would not leave behind any traces or fingerprints because the victim’s body would be disposed of in the Hudson River with an enormous rock tied to his feet.
As the album cover designed by Izzy Sanabria is intimidating, so is the arrangement of “Che Che Colé”, a song inspired by an African children’s game that immediately captured the attention of the Spanish-speaking world for its catchy and irresistible fusion of rhythms such as the bomba and the oriza with vestiges of the African 6/8.
“Che Che Colé”, the most popular song by the Colón-Lavoe duo, opened the doors of Panama, France, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru to them. The value of Willie and Héctor substantially improved thanks to the success of “Che Che Colé” and soon we would find them competing for ‘top billing’ in the clubs of Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens with the likes of Eddie Palmieri’s La Perfecta, the Lebrón Brothers, Frankie Dante & La Flamboyán and other bands of the time.
Although in the credits of the original album the names of the musicians are not listed, according to the investigation we did for the book Cada Cabeza es un Mundo: Relatos e Historias de Héctor Lavoe, at the end of 1969 the band integrated into it Eric Matos (trombone), Little Louie Romero (timbales), Milton Cardona (congas), José Mangual Jr. (bongo and cowbell), Santi González (bass) and Professor Joe Torres, who substitutes for Mark Dimond on the piano.
In “Cosa Nuestra”, the fourth recording of the duo after the launch, early in 1969, of Guisando (Doing A Job), Colón’s band now establishes its own sound and a very particular tonic in narrative salsa, due to its emphasis on stories about life in the city. Their fame by the end of 1969 rested in a rhythm section true to and shaped for polyrhythms; in the revolutionary trombones, loud, scattered and irritating, of Colón and his partner Eric Matos; in a popular repertoire and in the refined, tasteful, sentimental vocals of Héctor Lavoe, destined to become El Cantante De Los Cantantes (Singer’s Singer) a few years later.
With the end of the era of the boogaloo and the shing-aling, Colón/Lavoe demonstrated that they had the capacity to adapt to the demands of salsa that, on the fringes of traditional Cuban music, was enriched with the bomba and other Caribbean rhythms.
In “No Me Llores Más”, Willie and Héctor’s salsa echoed the sentiment of the person who does not want any crying when s/he dies if in life s/he was not honored and respected by his/her acquaintances. In the bolero with montuno “Ausencia” they sing about the pain of the man who can not accept the departure of his beloved, whose betrayal keeps him on the verge of going crazy. In “Te Conozco” they are inspired by the type of neighborhood that most people try to avoid for fear of being robbed and in “Juana Peña” they recreate the heart-rending experience of the woman who, after betraying many men, falls in love and suffers because her love is unreciprocated.
The track sequence continues with “Sonero Mayor”, an appreciation of the art of improvisation and soneo. “Sangrigorda” links urban imagines that, from the refrain “Eh, Kiliki/saca el pañuelo/prende el tabaco/mira que voy pal suelo”, suggest the scene of a santero cleansing and that of an outburst with cannabis while in “Tú No Puedes Conmigo”, Willie and Héctor once again take up the theme of envy and betrayal of a friend, so trendy at the dawn of salsa and present in songs like Hipocresía y Falsedad, No Hay Amigo, Maldades e Indestructible, among others.
Thanks to the hits “Che Che Colé”, “Juana Peña”, “Te Conozco” and the bolero “Ausencia”, with “Cosa Nuestra” Willie and Héctor achieved the most sold LP in their then nascent record career. The Latin people eagerly awaited the next album. And with “La Gran Fuga” (“The Big Break”), released the following year, they continued their course to conquering the salsa universe.
Eric Matos – Trombone Little “Louie” Romero – Timbales Milton Cardona – Congas José Mangual Jr. – Bongo, Cowbell Santi González – Bass Professor Joe Torres - Piano
Producer – Jerry Masucci Recording Director – Johnny Pacheco Audio Engineer– Irv Greenbaum Original Album Design – Izzy Sanabria Original Album Photography – Henri Wolfe
Wriiten by Jaime Torres Torres
La hegemonía de Willie Colón y Héctor Lavoe en el circuito de las bandas juveniles surgidas en Nueva York a mediados de la decada de los 60 se consolidó a fines de 1969 con el lanzamiento del elepé “Cosa Nuestra”.
La foto de la carátula, original de Henri Wolfe, recrea una escena típica de los crímenes de la mafia y del bajo mundo: un asesinato del que no quedarán rastros ni huellas dactilares porque el cuerpo del difunto será depositado en el Río Hudson con una enorme piedra atada a sus pies.
Si intimidante resulta la carátula diseñada por Izzy Sanabria, también lo es el arreglo de “Che Che Colé”, tema inspirado en un juego infantil africano que de inmediato capturó la atención del público hispanoparlante por su pegajosa e irresistible fusión de ritmos como la bomba y el oriza con vestigios del 6/8 africano.
“Che Che Colé”, la canción más popular del binomio Colón-Lavoe, les abrió las puertas de Panamá, Francia, Colombia, Venezuela y Perú. La cotización de Willie y Héctor mejoró sustancialmente gracias al éxito de “Che Che Colé” y pronto los encontraríamos disputando el ‘top billing’ en los clubes de Manhattan, el Bronx y Queens con La Perfecta de Eddie Palmieri, Lebrón Brothers, Frankie Dante & La Flamboyán y otras bandas de la época.
Aunque en los créditos del álbum original no se enumeran los nombres de los músicos, según la investigación que hicimos para el libro Cada Cabeza es un Mundo: Relatos e Historias de Héctor Lavoe, a fines de 1969 la banda la integraban Eric Matos (trombón), Little Louie Romero (timbales), Milton Cardona (congas), José Mangual Jr. (bongó y cencerro), Santi González (bajo) y Profesor Joe Torres, quien sustituye a Mark Dimond en el piano.
En “Cosa Nuestra”, la cuarta grabación del binomio tras el lanzamiento, temprano en 1969, de Guisando, la banda de Colón ya establece una sonoridad propia y una tónica muy particular en la narrativa salsera, por su énfasis en las historias de la urbanidad. Su fama a fines de 1969 descansó en una sección de ritmo afincada y educada para las polirritmias; en los trombones revolucionarios, estridentes, esplayados e hirientes de Colón y su compañero Eric Matos; en un repertorio popular y en las vocalizaciones afinadas, sabrosas y sentimentales de Héctor Lavoe, destinado a convertirse pocos años después en El Cantante de los Cantantes.
Concluida la era del boogaloo y el shing-aling, Colón/Lavoe demostraron tener la capacidad de aclimatarse a las exigencias de la salsa que, al margen de la tradición musical cubana, se enriquecía con la bomba y otros ritmos caribeños.
En “No Me Llores Más”, la salsa de Willie y Héctor se hizo eco del sentimiento de la persona que no quiere llanto cuando se muera si en vida no fue honrada y respetada por sus conocidos. En el bolero con montuno “Ausencia” le cantan al dolor del varón que no se resigna a la partida de su amada, cuya traición lo mantiene al borde del desquicio y la locura. En “Te Conozco” se inspiran en el tipo de barrio al que muchos le sacan el cuerpo porque siempre se las ingenia para tumbarle el peso a sus amigos y en “Juana Peña” recrean la desgarradora experiencia de la mujer que, después de traicionar a muchos hombres, se enamora y sufre porque no es correspondida.
La secuencia continúa con “Sonero mayor”, un reconocimiento al arte de la improvisación y del soneo. “Sangrigorda” enlaza imágenes urbanas que, desde el estribillo “Eh, Kiliki/saca el pañuelo/prende el tabaco/mira que voy pal suelo”, sugieren la escena de un despojo santero y la de un arrebato con canabis mientras en “Tú No Puedes Conmigo”, Willie y Héctor retoman el tema de la envidia y la traición de un amigo, tan en boga en el umbral de la salsa y enfocado en temas como Hipocresía y Falsedad, No Hay Amigo, Maldades e Indestructible, entre otros.
Gracias a los éxitos “Che Che Colé”, “Juana Peña”, “Te Conozco” y el bolero “Ausencia”, con “Cosa Nuestra” Willie y Héctor se anotaron el lp más vendido de su entonces incipiente carrera discográfica. El pueblo latino esperaba con avidez el próximo álbum. Y con “La Gran Fuga”, al año siguiente, prosiguieron su rumbo hacia la conquista del universo salsero.
Eric Matos – Trombón Little “Louie” Romero – Timbales Milton Cardona – Congas José Mangual Jr. – Bongó, Cencerro Santi González – Bajo Profesor Joe Torres - Piano
Productor – Jerry Masucci Director de Grabación – Johnny Pacheco Ingeniero de Audio– Irv Greenbaum Diseño del Álbum Original – Izzy Sanabria Fotografía del Álbum Original – Henri Wolfe
Ray Barretto's career has been a long and varied journey. Born in Brooklyn on April 29, 1929, he is the quintessential Nuyorican, a Puerto Rican born and raised in New York City. By the age of two, his family had moved to Manhattan's Spanish Harlem and by seven, the South Bronx. Barretto's bi-cultural experience was reinforced during his stint as a private in the Army during the late 1940's. “Hangin' with the black GI's [in Germany] and hearing the new progressive jazz that was happening then, be-bop, well, I was home." Being exposed to Dizzy Gillespie’s collaborations with Cuban conguero Chano Pozo further solidified that feeling and inspired him to begin learning the musical intricacies of the conga drum.
Barretto led a successful career as a sideman on jazz recordings with leaders like José Curbelo and Tito Puente. He then had success leading a charanga-style ensemble (a Cuban dance band that uses flute and violins) producing a highly successful crossover hit, El Watusi. But Ray was ready for a change. He formed a conjunto, a small Cuban-style dance band, with two trumpets and a rhythm section. "Jerry Masucci of Fania sought me out and the time was right. The title, Acid, was his idea.”
By 1966 a new sound had appeared on the New York dance music scene—Latin Boogaloo. A unique combination of son montuno, cha-cha-cha and R&B, this new sound was put down by many established bandleaders and purists, but Barretto embraced it. "I had been Black for a long time besides being Puerto Rican. It was part of growing up in New York."
And so the album opens with the funky, hard-driving son montuno titled El Nuevo Barretto. Listen closely to the opening break/trumpet phrase. Carlos Santana would recycle it later in his version of Tito Puente's Oye Como Va. On Mercy, Mercy, Baby, vocalist and fellow Nuyorican Pete Bonet, easily riffs in English, reflecting the influence African-American culture has had on the New York-Puerto Rican experience.
One of the gems on this recording is the title tune, Acid. It's simple, funky bass tumbao (a repetitive, rhythmic pattern) is played by the late great, legendary Cuban-American bassist, Bobby Rodriguez, who Barretto affectionately dubbed, "Big Daddy." The result, recorded in one take, is a tour de force that combines a jazz aesthetic with the drive of Afro-Cuban rhythm. René Lopez's solo on muted trumpet is equal parts Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, with some funky Cuban shadings and his own Nuyorican attitude.
Cuban, timbalero Orestes Vilato, a carry over from Barretto’s charanga, had been with Cuban flute virtuoso José Fajardo's charanga where he was never featured as a soloist. That completely changed on Acid and Soul Drummers, thus inspiring a new generation of young percussionists.
Fellow Cuban trumpeter Roberto Rodriguez plays a soaring lead solo. "Roberto holds a special place in my heart. He held a day job as a manager of an auto mechanic shop and never missed a gig or rehearsal with me and he always played his butt off. He was a man's man".
Barretto follows and starts with a quiet open roll that comes out of nowhere and builds to a climax of explosive slaps. The power and energy that he generates exudes exclamations of affirmation from his fellow band-mates. A final piano montuno by Louis Cruz with some final explosive trumpet work by Rodriguez while Lopez plays a tasty moña (a short improvised mambo line) underneath him closes the tune.
A Deeper Shade of Soul, Teacher of Love and Soul Drummers, Teacher of Love and Soul Drummers continue in the boogaloo groove. Sola te Dejaréis a straight up, swinging mambo/guaracha about an egotistical woman who winds up alone. It’s a showcase for vocalist Adalberto Santiago’s talents as a sonero (vocal improviser).
The closer on the album is the other gem, Espíritu Libre. It opens with a percussive dialogue between Orestes playing mallets on the timbales and Barretto on congas. A haunting melody is stated by Lopez, then mirrored by Rodriguez on muted trumpet. Big Daddy enters with a bass line in 6/8 meter accompanied by Santiago unwavering on a small bell. While Bonet strikes a jawbone, Barretto and Vilato converse over the West African-rooted rhythm known as bembé . Featured soloist Lopez uses some nice special effects and pianist Louis Cruz adds some unexpectedly eerie blues phrases as the intensity builds and finally comes to an abrupt halt. A recapitulation of the haunting melody of these two trumpets closes the piece and ends this journey to Africa.
"Jazz is always at the core of what I do musically," Barretto always said. As the most recorded hand percussionist in jazz history, and a leading force in salsa, this indeed is the case. In the New York/Puerto Rican experience, this duality is the norm, not the exception. From the early Latinos in New Orleans who participated in jazz's birth, to Nuyoricans like maestro Barretto, this rich musical journey continues. Welcome to part of that journey— Barretto's debut album for Fania, Acid.
PERSONNEL: Ray Barretto – musical director, congas Roberto Rodriguez – trumpet René Lopez – trumpet Orestes Vilato – timbales Louis Crúz- piano Bobby “Big Daddy” Rodriguez – Ampeg baby bass Adalberto Santiago – Spanish lead vocals, clave on Acid, maracas on Sola Te Dejaré, cha–cha bell on Espíritu Libre, tambourine and cencerro (bongó bell) on El Nuevo Barretto Pete Bonet – English vocals, guiro, quijada de burro (jaw of a donkey) on Espíritu Libre Background vocals: Jimmy Sabater and Willie Torres on Mercy, Mercy, Baby - Soul Drummers – Teacher of Love Adalberto Santiago and Pete Bonet on first part of El Nuevo Barretto, Pete Bonet and Ray Barretto on the last half of the tune. Pete Bonet , Willie Torres and Jimmy Sabater on Sola Te Dejaré
This album was recorded in real time with no overdubs.
Arrangements: Gil Lopez – Sola Te Dejaré concepts for all other arrangements by Ray Barretto
Recorded at RCA studios, 1967 Produced by Harvey Averne Executive Producer - Jerry Masucci Photos by Marty Topp Album cover design by Izzy Sanabria