Various Artists – Fania Records 1964-1980 (Strut/Border) CD REVIEW

This double CD set is subtitled ‘The original sound of Latin New York’, and it compiles the best (presumably) of the Fania label releases.
It’s a fulsome package, with 29 tracks from Latin names like Willie Colon, Ray Barretto, Bobby Valentin and Mongo Santamaria, along with lesser-known names who are probably just as “important”.
An expert in the way Latin music evolved in New York would be able to categorise each of these pieces into sub-categories. To this reviewer, however, most of it sounds the same, and that makes it pall rather quickly; the musical template in many cases is almost identical, a busy mish-mash of piano and screaming horns, dominated by shrill trumpets.
I’m sure people have studied this stuff, and some find it endlessly fascinating – as do those bores who obsess over dull Jamaican dub sides from the ‘70s – but to these ears, it’s fundamentally a utilitarian music form, made for one thing: dancing.
This busy music is certainly fecund, and it’s easy to imagine butts (and other body parts) shaking uncontrollably to its rhythms. It’s made for dancing, the songs are secondary, and that’s why so much of it sounds similar. Party music with swing and groove made by real musicians, not machines: what’s not to like? Well, I may well enjoy it in the right context, but this music was never meant for the home stereo environment, and I was deeply bored by it within about three tracks.
Disappointingly, although the Fania label did last right up to 1980, the sound carries its signature sound from the ‘60s, and never negotiates the more sonically and musically rewarding funk-fusion diaspora of the ‘70s.
Strut has done a decent job of remastering these tracks, most of which sound pretty decent, although the horns on the earlier pieces could slice your head off on a hi-res hi-fi, so watch out. GARY STEEL
Sound = 3/5
Music = 3/5

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