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V/A - Salsa Explosion! The New York Salsa Revolution, 1969-1979

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Artist: V/A

Album: Salsa Explosion! The New York Salsa Revolution, 1969-1979

Label: Strut

Review date: Nov. 5, 2010

The pithiest and most common description of Fania Records is “the Latin Motown.” Founded by bandleader and composer Johnny Pacheco and lawyer and salsa enthusiast Jerry Masucci in 1964, Fania began as little more than a vehicle for Pacheco. In a matter of years, it became the foremost progenitor of the New York derivates of Cuban music that came to be known broadly as “salsa.” Home to such new stars as Ray Barretto, Rubén Blades, Willie Colón, Celia Cruz, Larry Harlow, Hector Lavoe and Pacheco, Fania brought together many of its best performers in the Fania All-Stars, a more front-and-center analogue to say, the Funk Brothers at Motown or Booker T. & The MGs at Stax. Fania was the focal point for fusions of Afro-Cuban music with styles such as pop, rhythm and blues, and jazz from the later 1960s through the 1970s. It was also part of a small but great American tradition of upstart independent labels that produced singular “house” sounds by assembling coteries of exceptional musicians who fused and modernized more traditional regional and ethnic styles.

Among its peers in that particular form of musical entrepreneurship — including Motown, but also notably Stax, Sun and Chess — Fania has been a latecomer to the revivalism of the internet age. Since Emusica purchased Fania’s back catalogue in 2005, however (and since Codigo Music subsequently acquired it in 2009), Fania has been the beneficiary of extensive reissues and renewed enthusiasm. In recent years features on Fania have appeared in outlets such as the New York Times and the Village Voice. Like Motown (with Dream Girls) and Chess (with Cadillac Records), Fania has even been plugged via feature film, albeit the widely panned and narrowly viewed El Cantante, a biopic of Héctor Lavoe starring Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. More importantly, the new Codigo-helmed Fania website (www.fania.com) offers an inviting archive of digital reissues both from Fania proper and more than half-a-dozen other related Latin jazz imprints.

The first entry in a forthcoming new series “Fania Essential Recordings” from the label Strut, Salsa Explosion! The New York Salsa Revolution, 1969-1979 is a repackaged reissue of a compilation previously put out in conjunction with Starbucks Entertainment, Salsa Explosion: The Sound of Fania Records. Though there’s nothing new here outside of cover art and liner notes, the set remains an excellent sampler of the powerful and diverse Fania sound. Effervescent, horn-driven numbers like “Pachito Eché” stand alongside polyrhythmic percussive numbers such as Mongo Santamaria’s “O Mi Shango,” and soul grooves such as the Joe Cuba Sextet’s “Do You Feel It (Tu Lo Sientes).”

Many of the tracks should send listeners back to the original LPs on which they appear. Opener “Che Che Colé,” for instance — a showcase both for Willie Colón’s infectious, snappy trombone and Hector Lavoe’s silky voice — also begins the classic Colón and Lavoe collaborative album, Cosa Nuestra. Likewise, Ray Barretto’s “El Nuevo Barretto” should be treated as an invitation to explore the full-length Barretto album on which it appears: Acid, a more experimental, soul- and pop-tinged record from the congas master. Fortunately, these and many more original works are now keystrokes away, ready to make enthusiasts out of the dabblers to whom a compilation like Salsa Explosion! makes its appeal.

By Benjamin Ewing

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