2 November 2006
ALEGRE ALL STARS VOL.3 - LOST AND FOUND
Straight out the gate with the Alegre All Stars leading the way for a series on the Tico and Alegre labels which were two of the three greatest latin labels of the 50s and 60s.Fania was the third but more of that in the coming months.
This is the third of the four albums recorded in the 1960s by a loose-knit group of New York Puerto Rican salseros and jazzicologists known as Alegre All-Stars. Similar in feel to Fania All Stars, though featuring instrumentalists rather than vocalists, the line-up is equally impressive: The band is co-led by Charlie Palmieri on piano and Kako on timbales (a much "realer" choice than Tito Puente); Cortijo on congas and Bobby Rodriguez on bass hold down the rhythm; "Chombo" Silva is tenor saxophonist, "Puchi" Boulong and Ray Maldonado play trumpets, and Barry Rogers is trombonist. There are assorted other percussionists and a line-up of guest vocalists including merenguero Dioris Valladares, Yayo el Indio and Cheo Feliciano.
The group was assembled by Alegre owner Al Santiago who was impressed by the spontaneity of a fifties recording titled CUBAN ALL STARS when a group of visiting Cubans were recorded jamming at a party. That album was a huge hit and he wanted to do the same for his native Puerto Rican sound. Kako was his artistic adviser & they built a stellar line-up around incendiary pianist Charlie Palmieri. Sabu Martinez was too unreliable so they got Cortijo on congas. Johnny Pacheco was too busy but recommended a classmate of his for the trombone chair. When they first got together they played ten Tuesday nights at a club in the Bronx then went into the studio. Nothing was planned: whatever they felt they played. Little bits of studio chatter between songs show how much fun they were having. It's the only album I know of that lists the bar-tender as a member of the band!
They open Volume 3 with a descarga called "Yumbambe," a surprisingly lyrical piece, especially when Chombo solos (quoting "Chicago, Chicago that toddlin' town") while behind him it sounds like half the Bronx is cooking away on assorted percussion.
The Alegre All-Stars didn't take themselves too seriously which is one reason I love them. Their chops are immaculate but between songs they deride one another and make little sly asides which, with a little grasp of Spanglish, are uproariously funny. (The liner notes on how this album was lost and hence released after Volume 4 are quite mad, involving a new cataloguing system beyond belief: "We use a code number arrived at by totalling the seconds of recorded time, dividing by the amount of musicians in the rhythm section and adding the amount of bars blown by the soloist in the third track of the 'B' side of the record." They've now added a "working knowledge of the stop-watch" to the librarian's requirements to avoid further mix-ups, they explain.)
"The William Tell Overture," better known as "the Lone Ranger" theme, is quoted in the second song, a guaguanco titled "Sono sono," which gives way to the first bolero, done in a credible imitation of Beny Moré. It's a very fifties sound. Mostly they jam on "descargas" and flare out their hottest licks while the coro finds some suitable lyric to repeat in the background. It builds and builds and when it's over you just have to start again, or put on another volume. If you haven't discovered the Alegre All-Stars you are in for a four-volume treat.
Bass - Bobby Rodriguez
Bongos - David Cortijito
Congas - Frankie Malabe
Engineer - Roy Ramirez
Guiro - Tito Jimenez
Other [Studio Chatter] - Cecilio Carmona
Piano, Other [Leader] - Charlie Palmieri
Producer - Al Santiago
Saxophone [Tenor] - Jose "Chombo" Silva
Timbales, Other [Co-leader] - Kako
Trombone - Barry Rogers
Trumpet - Pedro "Puchi" Boulong , Ray Maldonado
Vocals, Percussion - Cheo Feliciano , Dioris Valladares , Heny Alvarez , Victor Velazquez , Willie Torres , Yayo "El Indio" Pequero