Ray Barretto

El Ray Criollo

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In 1966, when he recorded El Ray Criollo for West Side Latino, Ray Barretto was still chained to his earlier success with the energetic but novelty-ridden "El Watusi." Still, glimpses of his later innovations were beginning to resonate, from the presence of punchier brass heard higher in the mix and, conversely, the usual pair of violins occupying a lower place. Vocalist Willie Garcia opens the album sounding a little trad on "Margie," but then the second track "Salsa y Dulzura" comes in, sounding light years ahead of its time. That dichotomy recurs throughout the record, occasionally with good results (Garcia sounds perfectly at home on the bolero "Vida") but often sounding like a pair of dueling orchestras -- one evoking the sound of the early '60s and the other looking ahead to what was coming just around the bend: the freewheeling, virtuosic sound of salsa.

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