Various Artists: Nu Yorica! Culture Clash In New York City: Experiments in Latin Music 1970-77
A newly-reissued compilation from the Latin music explosion of the 1970s with names familiar and obscure.
Two decades after its initial release this excellent exploration of Latin music in the Big Apple between 1970 and 1977 is back with new tracks, a stellar remastering job, and plenty more to make it seem as though this strolled up from the subways of NYC and onto its beautiful streets. It’s hard to believe that this music is largely 40 or more years old as it sounds fresher and more exhilarating than a good dose of anything coming out these days—in any genre.
Cortijo Y Su Maquina Del Tiempo’s “Gumbo” is a melting pot of sounds from Africa, Puerto Rico, Brazil and the good ol’ you ess of ay. It has shifts in style and attitude and feel that are as in line with dance music as they are with British progressive rock and yet there’s a relentless lyricism to the playing, a series of twists and turns that are as positively exciting to sit through and hang with. Ricard Marrero & The Group sound either incredibly low budget in places or expertly prescient in others. Either way, the offering “Babalonia” proves remarkable, adventurous and filled with the kind of driving, horn-y and percussive twists you can’t buy anywhere but in Latin grooves. Tempo 70 turns in “El Galleton”, an exquisite three-minute adventure that makes you want to seek out more of the Puerto Rican collectives infectious grooves.
But the stars of the show overall -- and the first disc in particular -- are Charlie and Eddie Palmieri. Maybe two of the best-known names featured in this collection, the Palmieris were brave and bold, capable of raising listeners to unknown heights. Charlie’s tingle-inducing “Las Negritas De Carnaval” predicts David Byrne’s flirtation with Latin music many years later and Eddie’s “Un Dia Bonita” is filled with gorgeous piano runs and melodic adventures that challenge the listener again and again over the track’s nearly 15-minute run.
The expert, and under appreciated, turns of the octet named (what else?) Ocho spins out two tracks, “Mamy Colorao” and “Tornado” (the latter the title of the group’s fifth and final LP, released in 1975); the former tune sounds like a spooky version of War as blared through a transistor radio in some abandoned apartment at 4:30 in the morning, while the latter lives up to its name, swirling about the listener’s ears and engulfing them in a sound picture that is almost unbearable but well worth enduring.
The real winner of the second disc is Joe Bataan’s “Aftershower Funk” with its relentless flute lines and a funky groove that proves impossible to wash away. Behind, or maybe equal to that jam, is Ricardo Marrero & The Group’s “My Friend” or, really, the second epic in this collection, Machito Orchestra’s “Macho”, a small slice of Latin aural theatre.
Curiosity seekers will have plenty to dig for after hearing this collection. Ocho’s quintet of albums in particular seem worth seeking out and the Palmieris both have discographies that stretch back decades and decades (they were already veterans in the extreme by the time the tunes that appear here were recorded) and just dipping your toes in anything related to the name Machito should keep you busy well into the next century.
If the point of compilations such as this one is to entice listeners into a deeper appreciation and wider exploration then the job here is well done. It doesn’t hurt that the recording is rounded out by a gorgeous booklet with extensive liner notes and period pics, nor does it work against the collection that there’s not a duff note in the bunch. And you needn’t worry about being a Latin music expert to enjoy this; the compositions and the players do all the work for you, allowing you to ease into and take it all in in one gigantic gulp.