While it's true that the first chapter in Gato Barbieri's musical life -- at least on records -- had been that of an explorer, from his vanguard outings on ESP with Don Cherry and Dollar Brand to his showcasing the music of his native Latin America on Impulse, Fania, and Flying Dutchman as it intersected with modern jazz, it is the third chapter that concerns this release. Barbieri became deeply interested in commercial music and its possibilities for Latin jazz and the funk and salsa scenes in the early and mid-'70s. Caliente!, recorded with a very large group, was his first step in that direction in 1976 and it was a smash hit. Jazz purists may have decried its slick production and its lack of ensemble improvisation, but the set was generally well received. Ruby, Ruby followed suit in early 1978, and then Tropico popped out only three months later. This set features another large group with no less than three arrangers and a slew of different percussionists and backing vocalists on virtually every track. Carlos Santana makes an appearance on "Latin Lady," one of the best cuts on the set, and the Santana band's percussionist, José Chepitó Areas, is here, as well as Leon "Ndugu" Chancler, Armando Peraza, and funkmaster Bill Summers to name a few. Another beauty is the lushly orchestrated ballad "She Is Michelle," (written for his wife). Production by David Rubison is over the top. There are swells of strings, overdubs galore, and a full-on chorus to add atmosphere on cuts such as the reading of Caetano Veloso's "Odara." The cover of "Where Is the Love" is also a bit indulgent -- even for Gato at this stage, but it was aimed at scoring in the charts, and it did. Throughout, Barbieri's harsh, emotive tone is soaring over the top in virtually every arrangement, and it is that playing that drew listeners to this meld of funk, jazz, Latin, and Afro Cuban rhythms, disco and pop. The final track, a Barbieri reading of Ravel's "Bolero," with Eddie Watkins' bass pumping it along in triple time, has to be heard to be believed -- Barbieri transforms it into a carnival tune that loses none of its drama and pathos.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek