Many pure salsa and Latin jazz fans have a difficult time with Ray Barretto's Atlantic Records period in the late 1970s because he was making a deliberate run at the crossover jazz/dance music charts. Who better to strive for such a thing? Barretto established his bona fides in jazz two decades earlier -- and returned to them time and again until the end of his life. He was also one of the prime innovators in New York's salsa explosion, and even played on pop records as a sideman. His credits are book-length. These albums, from 1977 and 1978 respectively, have dated well. Eye of the Beholder is the better of the two. A very large cast date, it features Stix Hooper, Joe Sample, and Wilton Felder of the Crusaders, as well as a host of West Coast session players from the pop, jazz, and Latin worlds: saxophonist Pete Christlieb, trumpeter Louis "Perico" Ortiz, trombonist Garnett Brown, drummers Terry Bozzio and Angel "Cachete" Maldonado, guitarist Ray Gomez, and bassist Jeff Berlin are just a few of the players who appear. The groove here is more jazz-funk than fusion or salsa. The best tracks are "Here We Go Again," Leti," and "Tumbao Africano." Can You Feel It? finds Barretto hitting jazz-pop crossover numbers and dancefloor-oriented soul tunes. It is a diverse and sometimes unfocused album played by a smaller instrumental lineup which features Todd Anderson on saxophones and piano, with a handful of vocalists who include Cissy Houston, Diva Gray, Michelle Robinson, and Googie Coppola dealing out some of its best numbers. The overall sound is warm, full, and bright. It falls in line with many other R&B recordings from the label during the era, and its best cuts are the title track, "Stargazer," and "Confrontation." Are these Barretto's best records? Not by a long shot; but they are thoroughly enjoyable for those who regard funky dance music as its own popular art form. As a two-fer, perhaps these albums sound better now than they did at the time because when they were made, outside expectations were placed on an artist to remain in the same bag for a career. Thankfully, Barretto ignored them. This collection proves that he was easily the most musically and stylistically diverse conguero in the history of recorded music.
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