11 June 2006
LIBRE - CON SALSA...CON RITMO
One of the most revolutionary salsa albums of the 1970s, Conjunto Libre eschewed formulaic patterns that were common in mainstream salsa; bebop elements are welcomed, as well as free, extended musical improvisation, without sacrificing the integrity of the basic Cuban conjunto format.
Libre, aka Manny Oquendo's Libre, was co-founded in October 1974 by Manny Oquendo (b. 1931, Brooklyn, New York, USA, of Puerto Rican parentage; leader, timbales, bongo, güiro, other percussion, chorus, arrangements) and Andy González (b. 1951, Manhattan, New York, USA; bass, claves, other percussion, chorus, arrangements). They met while working with Eddie Palmieri's band and decided to organize Libre after having "irreconcilable problems" with the bandleader(He wouldn't pay them!) Their founding principle was that Libre ("free") should be based on Afro-Cuban roots, not just copying them, but allowing a freer, jazzier, more urban sound which broke away from what they perceived as the "cold, unemotional and mechanical sound" of most recorded salsa. Libre adopted a trombones and flute "trombanga" frontline, a combination that Oquendo had helped Palmieri develop when he was a member of his group, La Perfecta, in the 60s. Oquendo literally grew up on Latin music. In the 30s his family lived above Almacenes Hernández, then one of the leading record stores in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem). As a youngster he listened to Machito's original Afro-Cubans and began collecting 78 rpm discs of Cuban music. He started playing timbales at the age of 13 and worked with various bands, including Charlie Valero (1946), Los Hermanos Mercado and El Boy. He played with the legendary Chano Pozo in 1947 and replaced Tito Puente in José Curbelo's band in 1948. During the 50s mambo era, he performed with Tito Rodríguez and Puente. He informed Eddie Palmieri about the music coming out of Cuba while they were both accompanists in the Vicentico Valdés band in the late 50s, and became a founder member of Palmieri's Conjunto La Perfecta in 1962, remaining with the group until 1967. Afterwards he continued to work with Palmieri until Libre's formation. In addition, he worked with, among others, Pupi Campo, Noro Morales, Miguelito Valdés, Johnny Pacheco's charanga band, Charlie Palmieri, Larry Harlow and Israel "Cachao" López.
González started violin tuition when he was at grade school. He switched to bass at junior high school and organized a Latin jazz quintet with his older brother, Jerry González (conga, trumpet, fluegelhorn, chorus, bandleader). He began gigging with dance bands when he was 13-years of age. In 1967, he made his recording debut with the band of Monguito Santamaría (Mongo Santamaría's son) on On Top. After two years and a further album with Santamaría, González did a stint with Ray Barretto's band between 1969 and 1971, taking six months out to work with Dizzy Gillespie. From 1971-74, he performed with Eddie Palmieri. González has sessioned with an impressive list of Latin artists, including Justo Betancourt, Johnny Pacheco, Tito Rodríguez, Willie Colón, Machito, Arturo "Chico" O'Farrill, Charlie Palmieri, Roberto Torres, Don Gonzalo Fernández, Virgilio Marti and Rubén Blades. In the jazz and fusion contexts, he has worked with Kenny Dorham, Clifford Thornton, Hank Jones, Jazz Composers Orchestra, Kip Hanrahan, Jaco Pastorius, Astor Piazzolla, J.C. Heard, Paul Simon and brother Jerry's Fort Apache Band, among others. González appeared with the latter in London in November 1990. Like Oquendo, he has steeped himself in the Afro-Cuban tradition: "I've studied the whole history of Cuban music through recordings", he explained to Larry Birnbaum in 1989, "and I've talked to quite a few people who are knowledgeable about that music and those periods . . . Afro Cuban music history has a line to it, just like jazz . . . Things change over the years, but I think you've got to keep the link to the past."
Jerry González was a founder member of Libre. He co-founded the Latin Jazz Quintet in 1964; performed with Monguito Santamaría; toured with the Beach Boys (playing trumpet), and worked with Kenny Dorham, Dizzy Gillespie (six months), Orquesta Flamboyán (two years), Clifford Thornton Quintet, Tony Williams' Lifetime, Eddie Palmieri (playing conga for two-and-a-half years), Jeremy Steig, Larry Young, George Benson, Justo Betancourt, Totico and Kip Hanrahan, among others. Jerry made his solo debut with the notable Ya Yo Me Cure in 1980. He formed his own Latin jazz outfit, the Fort Apache Band, and made his album debut with them on The River Is Deep, which was recorded at the Berlin Jazz Festival in November 1982 (Libre also appeared). He left Libre at the end of the 80s to devote his energies to band leading. In 1989, he released Obatalá and Rumba Para Monk. In November 1990, the Fort Apache Band made their UK debut with an outstanding gig at London's Empire Ballroom.
Oquendo and the González brothers all performed with the short-lived Grupo Folklorico Y Experimental Nuevayorquino on the pioneering Concepts In Unity (1975) and Lo Dice Todo (1977), both on Salsoul Records. Shortly after the first Grupo Folklorico record, Libre signed with Salsoul and released four albums on the label between 1976 and 1981.
On their debut, Con Salsa ... Con Ritmo Vol. 1, Libre gave "Bamboleate" and "No Critiques" - two songs Oquendo had originally recorded with Eddie Palmieri in the 60s - a rugged and jazzy interpretation. Also featured was a moving version of the 1929 classic "Lamento Borincano (El Jibarito)' by the great Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández (1891-1965). Another classic, 1928"s "Suavecito" by Cuban Ignacio Piñeiro (1888 -1969; composer and leader of Septeto Nacional) was given a charanga-style treatment on the band's follow-up Tiene Calidad - Con Salsa ... Con Ritmo Vol. 2 in 1978. Los Lideres De La Salsa in 1979 compiled a track each from Libre's first two albums, "La Salsa" performed by Grupo Folklorico (with lead vocals by former big band leader Marcelino Guerra), plus three new tracks, two of which featured Cuban violinist Alfredo De La Fé. Young and talented singer, Herman Olivera, made his recording debut with Libre, sharing lead vocals with Tony "Pupy Cantor" Torres (a band member since 1975) on Increible in 1981. Olivera was the replacement for Libre's other co-lead singer, Héctor "Tempo" Alomar, who also joined in 1975 and went on to record with Nestor Torres, Charanga América, Johnny "Dandy" Rodríguez and Grupo ABC. Libre switched to the Montuno label for Ritmo, Sonido Y Estilo in 1983. The album featured an outstanding version of the plena "Elena, Elena" composed by Manuel "Canario" Jiménez (b. 1895, Manatí, Puerto Rico, d. 1975), a master of Puerto Rican jibaro (country) music, and a swinging interpretation of the classic "Que Humanidad", co-written by the incredibly prolific Cuban composer Ñico Saquito. Torres departed and became a co-lead vocalist with Willie Rosario's band for a brief stint.
Olivera left in 1991 to sing with Cruz Control, a swinging new outfit co-led by percussionist Ray Cruz and pianist Sergio Rivera. He was replaced on lead vocals by Frankie Vásquez (b. 6 January 1958, Guayama, Puerto Rico), who in addition to doing stints with Fuego '77, Sonido Taibori, Orquesta Calidad, Osvaldo "Chi Hua Hua" Martínez's Orquesta Metropolitana, Wayne Gorbea (b. 22 October 1950, Manhattan, New York, USA; bandleader, pianist, percussionist, vocalist, composer, producer) and Javier Vázquez, has performed with Henry Fiol, Junior González, Frankie Morales and others. Libre's trombone section has included such luminaries as the late Barry Rogers and Jose Rodrigues (both longstanding Eddie Palmieri accompanists); Angel "Papo" Vásquez, Jimmy Bosch (a long-time Ray Barretto compatriot) and Reinaldo Jorge; and jazz musicians Ed Byrne, Dan Reagan and Steve Turre (who also plays conch shell). Jazz fusioneer Dave Valentin played flute on all but one of Libre's first five albums. New York born pianist, Oscar Hernández, performed on the band's first four releases and guested on one track of Ritmo, Sonido Y Estilo (ex-Típica 73 and Los Kimbos member, Joe Mannozzi, played on the remainder). Hernández worked with Joey Pastrana, Ismael Miranda, Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros, Roberto Torres, Felix "Pupi" Legaretta, Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez, Ray Barretto and Rubén Blades, among others. He worked increasingly as a producer and albums to his credit include: Azucar A Granel! (1988) by Camilo Azuquita, Twice As Good! (1988) by Rafael de Jesús and Carabalí (1988) and Carabalí II (1991) by the septet of the same name. The impact of the salsa cum Latin jazz formular of Carabalí's first release on the London Latin scene led to a five-night residency at London's Bass Clef club followed by a nine-date UK tour, returning to the Bass Clef for the final gig (all in April, 1989). Hernández was with them as keyboardist and musical director .
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