Inspired by Latin boogaloo, Cuban mambo, jump blues and Southern soul, Fania Records’ fantastical salsa revolution involved stylish progenitors and vibrant newcomers whose combined efforts broadened the scope of ‘70s music. Founded by Latin music enthusiast Jerry Masucci and composing bandleader Johnny Pacheco, Fania’s universal success was commensurate to the British Invasion and Motown, hitting its zenith with two sold-out Yankee Stadium shows, both tumultuous successes despite fans charging the stage stealing instruments at the first.
On this two-disc compilation, timeless highlights abound. Superstar Joe Bataan’s English-sung, urban-grooved hand-clapper “Subway Joe” and horn-speckled shuffle “Mambo De Bataan” define the golden era’s colorful tapestry. Equally definitive, South Bronx-born Nuyorican trombonist and civil rights activist Willie Colon renders brassy Afro-Latin hip-shaker “Che Che Cole” (featuring idolized drug casualty Hector LaVoe on vocals), free jazz tropicalia “The Hustler” and zestful “Calle Luna, Calle Sol.” Even weighty pre-salsa legends such as Celia Cruz and Mongo Santamaria come up spades embellishing the spirited movement.
But there’s much more. Influential conga player Ray Barretto, a respected Puerto Rican jazz artist from Spanish Harlem, offers Gospel-bound “Mercy Mercy Baby” and reedy percolator “Indestructable.” Romantic bolero singer Cheo Feliciano submits sleek vibraphone merriment “Anacaona.” Orchestral choreographer Roberto Roena proffers call-and-response approbation “Consolacion.” ‘Pretty boy’ singer Ismael Miranda tenders uplifting affirmation “Abran Paso” as well as “Asi Se Compone Un Son.” Popular salsa bandleader Bobby Valentin conveys hip-swaying cha-cha “Use It Before You Lose It” and fluted guitar scorcher “Coco Seco.” Latin music’s longest running duo, Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz, a virtuoso pianist with rangy vocalist, furnish peppy fusion-licked “Sonido Bestial.”
For a dramatic departure, Hector Lavoe’s string-laden bossa nova, “El Cantante,” works neo-classical jazz into proggish grandeur. Also veering off slightly, then-newcomer Ruben Blades teams with seasoned legend Colon on two winning late-‘70s numbers that conveniently break away from traditional salsa and caused a stir within Fania’s ranks. The daring pair introduce Chicago-styled horns and Carib spicing to “Pedro Navaja” (a nifty “Mack The Knife” clone) and “Pablo Pueblo” (a fascinatingly modish jazz-rock divergence at times cryptically reminiscent of Steely Dan or Doobie Brothers permutations).
Easily one of the best assemblages of salsa music, recalling a time and place most Baby Boomer Latinos will never forget.