This album Standards Rican-ditioned by Ray Barretto has a very special – albeit tragic – place in the history and in the everlasting library of Latin-Jazz. Not only was it the last album ever recorded by the legendary conguero, who died a month after it was recorded but it was also the last album ever on which the great Hilton Ruiz was heard. He too died mysteriously; many believe was murdered shortly after the songs were recorded. In fact we also know that even as Mr Barretto was recorded scatting on the final track, “Strange Music” that very chart remained incomplete and even as Mr Barretto was felled by cardiac arrest his son Chris, who played alto saxophone on two charts here, left his father’s side at the hospital to overdub the conga part on that last chart “Strange Music”, which will for that reason always live in the memory.
Listening to this rather special recording again more than a decade after it was made one has a sense of the vitality of the music both in terms of the visceral growling exchanges between trombonist Papo Vásquez with his plunger mute on “Baby, Baby All the Time” together with the rolling tenor saxophone of David Sánchez on that chart as well as on “Suddenly it’s Spring” which both men attack with blistering zeal. Exchanges such as these run rampant throughout the music which may be best enjoyed for the elegance of Mr Ruiz and the masterful slap and thrust of Mr Barretto throughout the programme as he extracted the melodic tones from the enormous colour palette that he employed on his instrument.
Throughout Mr Barretto shows why he was the keeper of the flame that had been lit long ago by the great rumberos of Afro-Caribbean music from whom he seems to have descended, albeit being a lifelong New Yorker of Puerto Rican ancestry. It is this ancestral and cultural collision that drew him into the American Songbook where he exercised his natural eloquent flair to re-imagine the almost sacred standards – as he called it here – Standards Rican-ditioned. There is also a perfectly polished gem played in solitary splendour by Mr Ruiz; “Something to Live For” is that song, which in the context of how life turned out for the brilliant pianist soon after this recording, comes with an eerily beautiful and ironic portentous air.
Chris Barretto certainly proves that he has the where with all to keep the flame lit by his father burning strong albeit mostly on alto saxophone, which he plays with the kind of passion that made the older Barretto one of the most emotive and evocative players. Likewise, it may be said (in this instance) that the proverbial “son also rises” especially on “Strange Music” where he wears the heavy mantle of his father with spirited lightness of being despite the emotionally draining circumstances in which that chart was completed. Meanwhile John Benitez on contrabass and Adam Cruz on drumset both serve notice as to why they are among the most formidable performers on their respective instruments. This magical album is beyond precious as a Latin-Jazz collector’s item.
Track list – 1: Lean on Me; 2: Trav’lin’ Light; 3: Ivy; 4: Suddenly It’s Spring; 5: I Had the Craziest Dream; 6: Something to Live For; 7: Baby, Baby All the Time; 8: Brandy’s Blues; 9: Strange Music
Personnel – Ray Barretto: congas (1 – 5, 7, 8) and scat vocals (9); Hilton Ruiz: piano; David Sanchez: tenor saxophone (1, 3, 4, 7, 9); Papo Vasquez: trombone (2, 4, 5, 7, 8); Chris Barretto: alto saxophone (2, 8) and congas (9); John Benitez: contrabass (1 – 5, 7 – 9); Adam Cruz: drums (1 – 5, 7 – 9)
Released – 2006
Label – ZOHO Records
Runtime – 52:48
This album, Telecommunications, is one of the most iconic recordings by Azymuth, the ineffably funky Brasilian trio. When it was released – on the Milestone label in 1982 – it became a monumental hit, propelling the group, it went Gold and exploded into the Top 10 in the British Charts, soaring heavenward in popularity all over Europe too.
It’s not hard to understand the extraordinary popularity of Azymuth. First and foremost has to be the unmatched funkiness of all the musicians who made up the original trio: keyboards superstar, vocalist and percussionist José Roberto Bertrami, who sadly passed away on July 8th 1012, Ivan Mamão Conti, who just has to be considered one of the most funky drummers since Zigaboo Modeliste, [who practically invented funk drumming as one of the illustrious members of the iconic New Orleans group The Meters], and bassist Alex Malherios whose rumble and roar made for the glue [together with Mamão] that solidified the rhythmic edifice of the trio, while the soloist [particularly, Bertrami] launched himself on his mighty solo flights.
It may have been the syncopation of choro that carried over into Brasili’s most iconic urban music and dance forms – samba, a versatile rhythm that can assume many forms. Heated up, with a shouted call-and-response verse backed by literally thousands of samba-school drums on parade, it becomes samba de enredo [the mass Carnival music that is famous the world over]. But what happens when you take the vocals out of the musical equation, funk up the rhythm, add a rumbling electric bass guitar and jazz up the rippling Brasilian percussion?
That’s when you get the funkiest music that became the clarion call of Brasilian funk music ensembles, of which Azymuth was probably the most famous, plying its stock-in-trade at all the major jazz festivals – from the Americas to Europe – Monterey to Montreux and way beyond. The music on this seminal album, Telecommunications is characteristic of Azymuth at its very best. The repertoire came at a time when this heavyweight trio had reached the apogee of the musical style that continues to be a niche. A style that it had carved out for itself, with an eclectic, jazzy mix of Brasilian rhythms upon which were overlaid dallying soli by Mr Bertrami and Mamão, together with the rumbling bass of Mr Malherios.
Telecommunications’ opener “Estreito de Taruma” features a filing solo by the great Brasilian guitarist Helio Delmirio. The warm sonority, clean technique and penchant for spare ornamentation in his playing made him a guitarist like none other to come out of the raging flood of guitarists that cascaded out of the ocean of Brasilian music. The music that Mr Delmirio sculpted, from the steel strings at his fingertips, made the musical notes fly off the paper. His lines floated askance, oblique to the not so predictable keyboard playing by Mr Bertrami.
Throughout the two sides of this vinyl –superbly remastered by George Horn, by the way– we find music that is a testament to the musicians’ [and composers’] boundless invention. This music is replete with a wide expressive range and technical challenges, not to mention the fact that once all of the musicians have had their say, a musical structure is constructed that defies logic, convention and other well-worn stylistic hooks. So monumental is the music’s cachet. Mr Bertrami’s “Last Summer in Rio” and the wistful finale – “The House I Lived In” [together with its “Prelude” – as a finale, no less] is typical of the brooding, tumbling groove that Azymuth created for itself – a sound so unique among [any] other musicians from the 1970’s onward, is yet to be imitated, copied or otherwise reproduced by Brasilian artists other than Azymuth.
Tracks – Side A – 1: Estreito de Taruma; 2: What Price Samba [Quanta Vale um Samba]; 3: Country Road [Chão de Terra]; 4: May I Have This Dance? [Concede me Esto Dança?]. Side B – 1: Nothing Will Be As It Was [Nada Sera Como Antes]; 2: Last Summer in Rio; 3: The House I Lived In [A Casa em Que Vivi]; Prelude
Musicians – José Roberto Bertrami: organ [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1-3], keyboards [Side A 2, 4; Side B 1, 2], vocoder [Side A 3, 4], vocal [Side A 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1]; Alex Malherios: electric bass [Side A 1, 4; Side B 2], fretless bass [Side A 2, 3; Side B 2]; bass guitar [Side A 4], and acoustic guitar [Side A 3]; Ivan Mamão Conti: drums [Side A 1, 2, 4; Side B 1, 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 3]; Special Guests – Helio Delmirio: electric guitar [Aide A 1; Side B 2]; Aleuda: percussion [Side A 3, 4; Side B 1]; Dotô: repique [Side A 2]; Cidinho: percussion [Side B 2]
Released – 1982
Remastered and Released (vinyl) – 2022
Label – Milestone 
Jazz Dispensary – 
Runtime – Side A 19:21 Side B 21:43
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