Héctor Lavoe

A Man and His Music: La Voz

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No one made salsa great more than Willie Colón, but a large part of what made Colón great was Héctor Lavoe. "El Cantante" was the greatest vocalist in salsa history, a man whose gift for vocal improvisation and rhythm was in similar company with James Brown and Ray Charles -- and precious few others. He sang his lines with the same melodic dexterity as the greatest jazz singers (with more resemblance to an instrument than a voice). Also, he played off Colón's sprightly arrangements and punchy trombone lines to perfection. In fact, it's difficult to tell who inspired the other more. Still, it's clear they did most of their best work together -- at least five of their albums belong in the canon of great salsa: La Gran Fuga, Cosa Nuestra, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, Lo Mato, and El Juicio. La Voz, the two-disc compilation of Fania recordings, spends most of its first half reprising Lavoe and Colón's greatest sides, then focuses on Lavoe's excellent "solo" career (including La Voz, De Ti Depende, and El Sabio) plus a trio of his greatest appearances as part of the Fania All-Stars. It's the greatest Lavoe compilation ever assembled, with remastered sound and excellent liner notes from Little Louie Vega, the Masters at Work producer who knows his Héctor Lavoe better than anyone (he's Lavoe's nephew).

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