Ray Barretto 1929 - 2006

Ray Barretto Cocinando 45 (Fania, 1972)

One of my favorite musicians, Ray Barretto, died on February 17. An percussion inovator, Barretto revolutionized both Latin music and jazz in the 1960s. His album Acid is one monster of a record and recommended to any Latin, jazz, funk or soul fan. For a propper send off, please go here.

Below is something I posted October 7, 2005. Rerun today in memory of a music great.


I am guessing that the first time I heard Latin music was watching Desi Arnez on I Love Lucy. I know the second time I heard it was in high school when I found a 45 of Perez Prado's Mambo Jambo at the school's jury-rigged, 50 watt radio "station" i.e. a few storage rooms with some ancient radio gear in it. The rhythm of it was pretty infectuous and I showed my obsession with it by slapping it on a turntable in the classroom next to the "station" and doing a dance. What kind of dance? I don't think it had a name but it was pretty much some kind of smart ass, teenage jig or a demented softshoe. I could do it for you if you were here because I still have the record, or at least I have the song.

I found the song on a Prado album that I bought in the mid-1980s when burned out on punk rock youngsters such as I started digging through thrift stores for exotica albums. I was in some store, remembered the name Perez Prado so I when I stumbled upon a copy of his Big Hits I bought it, listened to it and liked it.

The next Latin record I bought was Cal Tjader's Mambo with Tjader. Impossible to pass up for the cover alone, it is my favorite Tjader album. Unlike Prado, Tjader is a bit more hip. His band is smaller, the recording is more immediate, and there certainly is more of an edge to it than with Prado. From Tjader it was Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, and Willie Bobo. However I didn't flip for Latin until I found The Hustler by Willie Colon.

The Hustler came to me via a girlfriend. We were staying with her husband's ex in Santa Cruz, while on our way to Southern California. I was flipping through records at the house and the ex told us that they were my then-girlfriend's dad's and to take what we wanted. The Hustler was one that went home. I could write pages on that record, but I will just note that it is one of my top five records of all time and it sent me on a frantic search for more.

Until The Hustler (and the Fania All Stars' Latin-Soul-Rock and a few other LPs), I passed up Latin stuff. Not anymore. Record stores, thrift stores, flea markets - I scoured everything. But finding good New York salsa music on the West Coast is tough. Though there is a large Spanish speaking population here, the Chicano population has long been hooked on oldies. The Mexicanos tend toward Norteno. And when you do find salsa it is usually later Celia Cruz or Ruben Blades album not the raw, soulful stuff.

Ray Barretto is certainly not obscure: he is one of the heavies of New York salsa. His Cocinando 45 has been in my constant rotation since I picked it up at a flea market with a stack of Latin 45s five years ago. The record might not be easy to track down but I am sure this has been reissued in one form or another. Like all the great stuff from that period, Cocinando has a nice deep, dark groove and violent horns. This is a dance floor filler.

beautiful. how can you not love it!
Tjader more hip than Prado? How so? Because he plays jazz? Prado cannot be topped in latin hipness, especially with all of his rock-ambo type cuts (which appear on more LP's that just "Rock-Ambo"). He is infinately more powerful than any of his peers and the band is tighter than anything I've ever heard.
I understand your grumblings but actually it's apples and eggs. Both the guys are very good and I think it is kinda moronic to judge any music by how "hip" it is. But when you are in your early 20s and you stumble on Tjader on your own and you were turned on to Prado at school, well, one instinctively becomes more hip than others. Fact is, both have survived many a Soriano record purge. Also neither get the platter time Willie Colon does.
I aint judging anything by how hip it is. You mentioned Prado and Tjader in the same article but gave the title of "more hip" to Tjader! See: "Unlike Prado, Tjader is a bit more hip."

Those are YOUR words. I'm also assuming you recently wrote this article, and not when you were in your early twenties. Did I miss something here? Was "I think it is kinda moronic to judge any music by how "hip" it is." directed at me or yourself? Not being a wise acre, I really can't tell.

I am in no way dissing Tjader either. I just think it's funny that you would compare the two and say he was more hip. Now if you really wanted to make a point that wasn't so "apples and eggs" you would have compared Tjader to Dave Pike, especially "Manhattan Latin" era.
I know, it is sometimes hard to judge tone on this damn internet. Here, I'll clarify a bit.

The post should read Tjader is a bit more hip to a twenty-something year old, at least this twenty-something year old in the late 80s. Prado sounded more like my mom & pop's music than Tjader (which I later found out to be wrong, as my dad is a big Tjader fan, not that you could tell by the folk's record collection). Nowadays, I dont see any big chasm between the two, but I look at music a bit different than I did when I was 20ish. Back then I wasnt familiar enough with Latin music to see the connections, something I think the post points out, though not directly. Another example I could have used is George Shearing. At first listen or glance, the guy seems to be just another lounge dude out to make a buck of the Latin craze...and then you learn that he is one of the folks largely responsible for the Latin craze. Unless you were there or were educated about Shearing it would be difficult to tell that, even today.

Not that I was too concerned with hipness back then but the whole concept of hip and hipsterism has no use for me today. I think that is what I was trying to say in my reply to your reply. Chalk another one up to the flatness of this medium, and perhaps to my lack of clarity.
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