With the plethora of re-released classic, recently unearthed and as well as not-so-classic recordings a great band, sucking – albeit for a time – the proverbial oxygen from print, broadcast and online media one has to wonder if the listener benefits at all from such re-releases, or first-time releases. Not so in the case of the recently re-released classic debut recording by Héctor Lavoe entitled La Voz, on Craft Recordings, fast becoming a serious contender for the go-to label for excellent vinyl.
A certified classic La Voz was a first [as leader] not only for Héctor Lavoe but also an important one for Willie Colón, who by 1973 was seriously pursuing a career in production after his leading highly successful band fronted by Mr Lavoe. The lustrous voice of the Puerto Rican vocalist, soaring into the stratosphere of the upper registers of his tenor into an almost countertenor range had already made him the darling of audiences who came to be seduced by his performances, featuring the liquid glissandi-like delivery of lyrics, mesmerising in the romantic narratives that he [Mr Lavoe] always managed to bring to life.
Mr Colón’s performances – with Mr Lavoe wooing the swooning audiences from the microphone – exemplified a form of music born out of an encounter of Cuban and Puerto Rican music that grew to encompass a variety of styles and idioms. A heated kind of controlled and elegantly frenzied dance ensued that seemed to capture the gliding rhythms of the music. The word Salsa – a word with vivid associations but no absolute definitions came to be associated with this music. At the height of its popularity, trombonist-leader Willie Colón’s band together with the Queen of Salsa – Celia Cruz – and Johnny Pacheco and Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Pérez Prado and Machito [whose music was called Afro-Cuban Jazz really] ruled the Palladium.
Johnny Pacheco gave the dance bands a forum with his Fania Records and this label lured Mr Lavoe to record his debut – La Voz – in 1975, produced, as mentioned earlier, by Mr Colón.
The recording is a truly fine example of Mr Colon’s production style – that is, laying down instrumentation on a bed of lavish brass arrangements and featuring the evocative vocals of Mr Lavoe. When the album was first released in 1975, it produced two big hits for Mr Lavoe – the bookends of the album: the dazzling, energetic El Todopoderoso and the curvaceous sensuality of Mi Gente. Although the two songs made the lists of a number of hit parades, the music of the entire album resounds with the perfect texture and volatile rhythms of what had come to be popularly known as “salsa” music. Leading from the front are the vocals of Mr Lavoe with dazzling semiquaver runs, executed with a certain delicacy and wholesome doses of panache.
It bears mention – and this is key to such a vinyl re-release – that the masterful analog engineering by Joe Fausty on the original [Fania] label has been preserved – even enhanced – on the Craft recording with exquisite mastering by Kevin Gray. With all of this being delivered on a 180-gram vinyl, this classic Craft Recording is well worth the money you may have to pay for it.
YouTube Playlist – Héctor Lavoe: La Voz
Music – Side A – 1: El Todopoderoso; 2: Emborráchame de Amor; 3: Paraíso de Dulzura; 3: Un Amor de la Calle. Side B – 1: Rompe Saragüey; 2: Mucho Amor; 3: Tus Ojos; 4: Mi Gente
Musicians – Héctor Lavoe: vocals; Mark Dimond: piano; Eddie “Gua-gua” Rivera: bass; Milton Cardona: conga; José Mangual Jr: bongo; Nicky Marrero: timbales; Tom Malone: trombone; José Rodríguez: trombone; Ray Maldonado: trumpet [solo on Mi Gente]; Héctor Zarzuela: trumpet[solo on Rompe Saragüey]; Rubén Blades: backing vocals; Willie Colón: backing vocals; Willie García: backing vocals.
Released – 1975, 2023
Label – Fania, Craft Recordings [CR00644]
Runtime – Side A 15:11 Side B 17:41
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