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When Ray Barretto Took the Road Less Travelled (The Making of The Other Road)

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This is the source of pride for me, that we LATINOS got together and played some jazz!”  Ray Barretto (1973)

Sometimes life throws you a curve and changes its trajectory. That’s what happened to Ray Barretto in 1972 when four members of his salsa band – the singer Adalberto Santiago, the percussionist Orestes Vilato, the trumpeter Rene Lopez and the bassist Dave Perez – staged a walkout and formed the group Tipica ’73.

To make matters worse, the word on the street was, “Se fueron los muchachos! Que Va a Hacer Ray ahora?” (The guy’s left. What’s Ray going to do now?). “I was restructuring my band, and I didn’t have a singer,” said Barretto in a 1994 interview. “I wanted to make a jazz album. I told Jerry Masucci at Fania, ‘Let me do this for myself, and let’s have some fun with the music I like to play.'” Surprisingly, Masucci (a former police officer, attorney, and savvy promoter) gave Barretto the green light. I use the word “surprisingly” because Fania had no interest in penetrating the jazz market, nor did it have the slightest idea of how to promote a jazz recording.

Barretto wasted no time in organizing a group of “young disciples from various mother countries.” The flutist, Art (Artie) Webb, the Mexican-American trumpet, and flugelhorn player, Manny Duran, the Colombian keyboardist, composer Edy Martinez, the Panamanian bass player, Guillermo Edgehill, and the drummer, Billy Cobham and recorded La Tierra Sound Studios Ltd. in midtown Manhattan in one six-hour session. 

The repertoire included original compositions by Barretto, Manny Duran, and Edy Martinez. Also, a Latinized interpretation of Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight (Round About Midnight), the high energy Lucretia the Cat; the profoundly spiritual, Oracion (The Prayer); an instrumental interpretation of the hit tune, Abjidan; the catchy Little Ting and the title track.

When Fania released the album in 1973, Barretto’s fan base, who knew and revered him as a Latin bandleader, rejected it. Some returned the record to the store, claiming it wasn’t Ray Barretto. Also, Fania didn’t know what to make of it, and the media and music industry ignored it. 

The same year, Barretto came roaring back with Indestructible, whose dazzling cover art and powerful lyrics and rhythms put Barretto in good stead with his fan base and Fania. Also, from 1974 to 1990, he released a slew of successful recordings, including Barretto (1975), Rican/Struction (1979), and Giant Force (1980), among others.

Despite the success, Barretto was increasingly dissatisfied with the lack of creativity in Latin music, the glorification of singers, and salsa’s trajectory. In 1991, he released Soy Dichoso, a musical “farewell” to Fania Records, and formed the jazz ensemble, New World Spirit.

From 1992 to 2005, the ensemble released a series of highly acclaimed albums including Ancestral Messages (Concord Picante); My Summertime (Blue Note); Homage to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (Sunnyside) and Time Was – Time Is (O Music).

In 2008, E Music, LLC released a remastered version of The Other Road with liner notes by Gregory “Goyo” Pappas.

What to make of The Other Road circa 2020? Today, it’s widely considered a “cult classic” (a favorite among musicians) which, in my view belies its significance. According to Pappas, “it may be of more lasting significance than many of his more popular tropical albums.” Whatever your opinion, no one can deny it has stood the test of time. Also, the original (vinyl )recording and the French and Japanese pressings are valuable collector’s items.

Was The Other Road the “seed” for New World Spirit? That’s a question only Barretto can answer but, in my opinion, yes!

As his acceptance speech at the National Endowment of the Arts implies, in the ned Barretto’s life and career came full circle. “To receive this honor is the gift of a lifetime. Jazz has been my spiritual baby sitter since my youth in Harlem and the Bronx, and I’ve spent my career trying to give something back. With gratitude and respect to everyone at the National Endowment for the Arts, please allow me to consider myself still a jazz student.”

When life threw Ray Barretto a curve, he seized the moment, made a bold and potentially career-ending creative statement. Also, he rose to the occasion as a bandleader, musician, and jazz master.

Que Viva La Musica!

TRACKS: The Other Road, Round About Midnight, Lucretia the Cat, Oracion (The Prayer), Little Ting, Abidjan Revisited.

PERSONNEL: Trumpeter Roberto Rodriguez – Trumpeter Joseph Roman, Trumpet/Flugelhorn – Mann Duran, Piano/Fender Rhodes Piano – Edy (Eddy) Martinez, Electric Bass – Guillermo Edgehill, Timbales – Ray Romero, Bongos – Tony Fuentes, Flute – Arthur (Artie Webb), Drums – Billy Cobham, Conga, Talking Drum, Chinese Bell Tree, Producer – Ray Barretto, Executive Producer – Jerry Masucci, Engineer – Jon Fausty.

SOURCES

  • Discogs – Ray Barretto Discography – http://discogs.com
  • Flores, Aurora – Ray Barretto Interview (Raices Program of Boys and Girl’s Harbor Yearly Conversation. Youtube, 2003 )
  • Indestructible Liner Notes (Fania, 1973)
  • Pappas, Gregory “Goyo” – The Other Road Liner Notes (2008)
  • Pouchie, Naomi – Latin Jazz Alive and Kickin’, (Published on Youtube, 2010)
  • Ray Barretto (1929-2006) – Latin Beat Magazine, Volume 16, Number 3 (2006)
  • Rondon, Miguel Cesar – El Libro de la Salsa, Cronica de la Musica del Caribe Urbano (Ediciones B, Grupo Zeta, 1978)
  • Tamargo, Luis – Ray Barretto Interview (Latin Beat Magazine (Volume 4, Number 5)
  • The Other Road Liner Notes (Fania, 1973)
A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Editor-in-Chief Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject. His writing appears on Latin Jazz Network; Chamber Music America magazine and numerous other publications.

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