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Date: 1968
Release: FANIA SLP-346
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By the time 1968 rolled around, Ray Barretto was a celebrated studio session player whose hard-driving conga rhythms could be heard all over the records of Dizzy Gillespie, Cal Tjader, Cannonball Adderley, and countless others. Once he dropped Acid onto the music world, Barretto firmly established a reputation for himself as an innovator in his own right.

Like the drug itself, Acid had a mind-expanding influence on everyone, allowing for a far more adventurous and eclectic edge to slip into New York’s Latin music scene. A lot less psychedelic than its title and cover might lead you to believe, Acid remains one of the most far-out fusions of Latin and soul music ever conceived.

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Date: 1973
Release: Soul Jazz Records #12
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The Arabs gave the world the concept of zero. America’s own School House Rock taught us that “three is a magic number.” And Chinese numerologists revealed which numbers carried good luck and bad. All these developments set the stage for the release of eight songs recorded by eight Puerto Rican-born African-American musicians who took their name from the Spanish word for the number eight, Ocho. One of the defining bands of the ‘black and proud’ NuYorican scene of the early 1970s, Ocho masterfully fused elements of Latin, funk and jazz. From 1973-75, they recorded four LPs (all reissued by Soul Jazz Records) that are on par with almost anything released by Ray Barretto, Joe Bataan, and Eddie Palmieri. The cream of the crop is Ocho 1, a glorious record loaded with exactly the kind of sounds I have in mind when I tell people that I’m into Latin music.

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Date: 1972
Release: TICO #1303
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Before the heyday of Salsa, Eddie Palmieri functioned as a path-breaking phenomena from Puerto Rico. His lingering influence on Latin music cannot be overstated. This album perfectly combines Palmieri’s experimentalism with the heavy rhythms that kept him ahead on the street. Playing for the toughest of crowds imaginable–the inmates of New York’s notorious Sing-Sing prison–Palmieri and band tore through an ambitious and aggressive set of funky salsa tunes that had the guards dancing in their towers. The prisoners responded with riotous enthusiasm to the music, whose gritty sound came out of the poverty of the Barrio, in South East Harlem, in the Bronx, and other places where bad breaks abounded. This, after all, was THEIR music, and anybody familiar with the condition of America and its prisons in the early 70s (remember Attica!) can understand why the aggressive rhythms of Palmieri resonated so deeply with the incarcerated audience at Sing-Sing.

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Date: 1969
Release: Prestige #7765
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I was first exposed to the irresistible music of Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers in the mid 1990s, when he was in the midst of his UK inspired resurgence. But it wasn’t a British DJ that turned me on to Pucho, it was my old friend Steve. Steve and I had a strangely competitive friendship, built around a mutual love of music. Our dysfunctional dynamic led us on an out of control CD buying spree, a musical arms race of sorts, with both of us vying to accumulate more wonderfully obscure music than the other…more music, that is, than either of us could afford or digest. This irresponsible form of male bonding through competitive consumption was a direct by-product of our short-lived second adolescence, courtesy of the University of California, where we had found a temporary reprieve from the working world to live high on the hog of student loans (me) and parental largess (‘shaking the money tree,’ as Steve put it). But instead of hitting the books, we spent hours of our not so free time scouring the used record bins, each trying to surpass the other.

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caltjader_eddiepalmieri

Date: May 24-26, 1966
Release: VERVE #314 519 812-2
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Cal Tjader was a Swedish-American vibraphonist who led pioneering Latin jazz bands from the 1950s until his death in 1982. He was instrumental in bringing Latin music into the mainstream of jazz, creating a fluid, cool-toned vibraphone sound that perfectly embraced both musical styles.

His 1966 collaboration with Latin pianist Eddie Palmieri, El Sonido Nuevo, is one of the most intense mixtures of hot salsa and cool jazz ever recorded. For this session, Tjader and his bassist Bobby Rodriguez joined forces with Palmieri and his high-spirited band, La Perfecta, creating a new unit with a new sound.

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Date: 1998
Release: RHINO #R2 75209
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Eighteen sizzling Latin grooves with the power to put some spice back into your life. The tracks collected here were recorded between 1954 and 1972, and range from classic mambo and Latin-jazz to funk and salsa.

This collection contains only the hottest tracks from such major Latin artists as Willie Bobo, Mongo Santamaria, Cal Tjader, Machito, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, and others. There are also a number of obscure and less-obvious selections, including songs by Ocho, Kako & His Orchestra, and the ever-funky Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers, making it a well rounded and totally enjoyable introduction to this diverse genre.

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