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Héctor Lavoe: La Voz

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Héctor Lavoe: La Voz
Craft Recordings have been on a roll of late, following 2021's excellently presented Ornette Coleman boxset, Genesis of Genius, with 2023's Contemporary Records Acoustic Sounds series and imminent Sonny Rollins set Go West!: The Contemporary Records Albums. So it is only natural that jazz-inclined audiophiles will start turning their attention to what other treasures the LA-based reissue specialists are digging out of the vaults.

And so we arrive at Craft's new "special reissue" of salsa star Héctor Lavoe's celebrated solo debut, La Voz, originally released on Fania Records, 1975—wonderfully warm, all-analogue vinyl mastered from the original tapes by Cohearent Audio's Kevin Gray. Surely the busiest man in wax right now, Gray's name is also found on hype stickers for every single release in Blue Note Records' steaming Tone Poet and Classic Series, comprising, some 135 titles and counting.

With a hot, bopping big band cooking through a tight eight-track set, the music here proves well worthy of this long overdue treatment, its evergreen percussive chug powering through the lively horn stabs, creating a full soundstage for Lavoe's clear, quavering voice to soar through—a piece of history that lives up to the hype.

New York was a hotbed of salsa in the 1970s—one of those rare moments in history where commercial appeal and artistic achievement aligned—and Lavoe was at the heart of it . Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1946, Héctor Juan Pérez Martínez moved to New York at 17, where he ditched the name and met fellow future teen superstar Willie Colon. The featured vocalist on 10 albums fronting Colon's big band, beginning from 1967, Lavoe has been remembered as one of the era's most distinctive voices. He and Colón were mainstays of the Fania Records staple, the "Latin Motown" label founded by Dominican bandleader Johnny Pacheco in 1964 that came to fuel, epitomise and capitalise on the growing salsa craze (one of a handful of divergent organic musical movements—alongside loft jazz and post-punk—giddily documented in n Will Hermes' excellent Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music).

La Voz landed bang in the middle of the decade, and the golden era—as Colón stepped behind the desk and into production, Lavoe's voice was set free to score his first Gold record. But while the album was produced by Colon and features many members of his orchestra—plus Rubén Blades also on vocals—it tones down some of the Fania All-Stars' extended vamps and fiery horn breakdowns in favour of a tight set showcasing the leader's precise tone and pure diction. All this is evident from a first spin through the joyfully boisterous tone-setter, "El Todopoderoso," an international hit and the sole co-write between singer and producer which opens the record.

The LP is split evenly between up-and mid-tempo tunes, but the ballads hit as hard as the smokers. On Side A, the big-hearted mambo trot of "Emborráchame de Amor" and the charming, old world postcard "Un Amor de la Calle"—both smouldering slowly with not-so-innocent seductive twists and twirls—are separated by the thermostat-turner "Paraíso de Dulzura," a lustily charged stomp from Lavoe's own lovesick pen.

A big-band jazz influence is evident in the horn writing and steady harmonic progression of the ballads, while the extended, six-and-a-half-minute take on Félix Chappottín's "Rompe Saragüey" offers spare grooves for Mark "Markolino" Dimond to let loose with a delightfully idiosyncratic solo showcase. The album peaks late, halfway through Side B, with the aching ballad "Tus Ojos"—a too-brief passing of breath at just 3'33"—before the delightful closer, "Mi Gente." Penned by Pacheco, this joyful anthem of Latin pride became the album's breakout hit and gave Lavoe his signature hit (and apparently became familiar to gamers worldwide after being employed on the soundtrack to 2006's Grand Theft Auto: Vice City). Lavoe would release nine more albums before his death, aged 46, and one imagines the burgeoning Craft Latino wing—with 25 rereleases since 2019 and counting—won't be stopping there.

So, there it is, our feel good hit of the summer may have just arrived, 48 years behind schedule—and sounding better than ever.

Track Listing

El Todopoderoso, Emborrachame de Amor, Paraíso de Dulzura, Un Amor de la Calle, Rompe Saragüey, Mucho Amor, Tus Ojos, Mi Gente

Personnel

Album information

Title: La Voz | Year Released: 1975 | Record Label: Fania

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