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Artist Profiles

Ray Barretto: Homage to Art Blakey

By Published: April 5, 2003
Homage To Art Blakey, on the other hand, is a positively convincing example of the saying "imitation is the sincerest form of respect." This truly sounds like a Jazz Messenger record. While Blakey's inimitable, explosive drumming, both polytonal and polyrhythmic, may never be duplicated by a single player, the combination of Barretto's congas and Vince Cherico's drums come close. The rhythm and sound of Ray's conga lines are powerfully reminiscent of the tom tom figures that Blakey incorporated into his playing to give it its distinctive AfroCuban spirit and that spirit comes to life throughout the disc. Barretto recorded with Blakey as part of the large percussion ensemble featured on the drummer's Holiday for Skins (Blue Note) nearly 45 years ago. Playing with Blakey was one of the high points of the young conga player's career. Ray remembers the experience well. "Art instructed me to play a certain rhythm behind him. At the time I didn't think that it fit. I thought about it for a minute and was getting ready to tell him that, when I said to myself, 'Hold on, that's Art Blakey. He must know what's he's doing.' When we finished the song and listened to it, I realized he was right."

For Homage to Art Blakey, Ray, a long time discophile, went through his Messenger collection to choose the date's repertoire. Half of the tunes he selected were composed by Wayne Shorter. "I hadn't planned it that way. It just so happened that the more I listened, the more I felt his music best fit, melodically and harmonically, with what we wanted to do." Much like Blakey, the leader made sure that the band members contributed to the date. Pianist Luis Perdomo penned imaginative arrangements of Shorter's "United, Sleeping Dancer Sleep On", and "Noise In the Attic", and the lyrical standard "Close Your Eyes". Barretto called upon former New World Spirit trumpeter Mike Mossman, who played many times with Blakey, to arrange the album's final Shorter piece, "Lester Left Town", as well as the traditional "Frere Jacques", Ray's tribute to the classic Messenger version of "Three Blind Mice".

Barretto asked the group's trumpeter John Bailey to compose a ballad for the date and was rewarded with the beautiful "Ballade for Buhaina". "It's my favorite piece on the record," the proud leader beams. The fiery Bailey is also featured on bassist Hans Glawisching's funky arrangement of Lee Morgan's "Buh's Bossa" along with alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon, the newest member of the band. The leader is particularly happy with the way the two horn players' sounds blend together throughout the date. Ray is eagerly anticipating performing the music from Homage to Art Blakey live at the Blue Note this month, on a double bill that will also feature the great Messenger saxophonist/composer Benny Golson. Also on the horizon is Ray Barretto's retrospective JVC concert at Carnegie Hall this June that will feature both the new group and a reunion of his salsa orquestra. An appropriate look back on the career of a giant who continues to look forward.

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