El Chicano

Chicano Chant

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El Chicano was never an easy band to categorize. Were they Latin rock, brown-eyed soul, funk, jazz fusion, or salsa? Truth be told, the Los Angeles combo offered all of those things. And while comparisons to Santana -- an equally adventurous Mexican-American outfit from a different part of California -- were inevitable, El Chicano had an energy of their own. This collection, which MCA assembled in 1997, looks back on the band's early-'70s heyday. Chicano Chant isn't really a best-of because some essential tracks are missing -- most notably, the hit "Tell Her She's Lovely," which only reached number 40 on the pop singles chart but became a favorite in Mexican-American neighborhoods. Nonetheless, the tracks that MCA does offer are excellent, and the majority of them are Afro-Cuban-flavored jazz fusion instrumentals. The most famous is El Chicano's hit 1970 version of pianist Gerald Wilson's "Viva Tirado"; however, lovers of '70s jazz fusion will also find a lot to admire about "Viva La Raza," "El Grito," and "Juntos," all of which are quite loose and free-spirited. Meanwhile, "El Cayuco" is an infectious cha cha along the lines of Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" (a major hit for Santana in the early '70s), Ray Barretto's "Cocinando," or Poncho Sanchez's "Sonando." Although the cha cha beat was created in Cuba, "El Cayuco" demonstrates that you don't have to be Cuban to take advantage of it. Two of the vocal-oriented and less-jazz-minded tracks are "Sabor a Mi" (a romantic Latin-style bolero) and El Chicano's arrangement of "Gringo in Mexico." But instrumental jazz fusion is the thing that dominates this rewarding CD.

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