Saturday, September 20, 2008

El Rey

Bring up the subject of Latin Jazz, and most assuredly the name that will most frequently arise is that of Tito Puente. It’s absolutely unavoidable. Although often linked to Cuban music, Puente was actually born in New York City, and his parents were Puerto Rican, not Cuban. Regardless of ancestry though, Puente was simply masterful in his command of Latin music of all types.

A little while ago I wrote about the rebirth of legendary label Fania Records (back here). Well as part of their work digging up golden treasures and releasing re-issues of albums long lost, they’re revisiting some of Puente’s earliest work. Near the beginning of his career, Puente actually recorded for two different labels: RCA and Tico. RCA’s name is familiar, but less so Tico’s. Tico, much like Fania, was another NYC label that focused on Latin music, and was actually bought by Fania in 1974. While much of his work at RCA was crossover music that appealed to mainstream America, his work at Tico was geared more towards his original Latin music audience.

Many of his earliest recordings were issued on 78 RPM records which, needless to say, are just a shade more common than 8-tracks now a days. Fania has collected some of these recordings, in fact MANY of these recordings, from Puente’s years at Tico between 1949 and 1955 and is re-releasing them, many for the first time, in digital format. They’ve assembled a staggering 156 songs which will be spread out across four double-CD volumes, two of which are out now and two which will be released in the near future.

Biting into the first volume, what can you say about a legend’s music? It’s timeless. It’s classic. Forget Ricky Martin, this is Latin music to its core. Much of it is instrumental, some of it features vocals (primarily in Spanish), all of it is seminal in the development of Latin music.

Visit the Fania website.

No comments: