The dream of Johnny Pacheco and Jerry Masucci to bring their array of artists together and do to the late-'60s salsa scene what the powerhouse Alegre All-Stars and Tico All-Stars had done earlier in the decade inaugurated a decades-long run by the best in the business. Debuting in 1968 in a little Village club called the Red Garter, the group packed the bandstand with stars: Ray Barretto, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Larry Harlow, Willie Colón, Pacheco, and Héctor Lavoe, among others. The highlight, "Guatacando," set the tone for everything to come (on the album, and down the years). An energetic descarga jam, it featured nearly 13 minutes of fiery improvisation, first from Palmieri's thunderous piano, then Louie Ramirez on vibes, trumpeter Ray Maldonado, and finally Barretto's congas. It also showed both Latin and jazz audiences that the Fania label had almost as many virtuosos as Blue Note. The very next track was one for the lovers, "Country Girl - City Man," a light and quick rock crossover with plenty of groove, featuring vocalist La La and Joe Bataan trading lines. (Jazz fans, imagine Miles Davis interspersing a Stax cover with material from Miles in the Sky on a live date.) "Me Gusta el Son" ends the program (and is reprised for the "Exit Theme")with another dozen-plus minutes of furious percussive groove and free-wheeling solos, completing an energizing record that set the tone for salsa in its most fruitful years: the late '60s and early '70s. This was an excellent and promising start for the supergroup, and fortunately, it was only the beginning, the first in a series of powerhouse live and studio dates for the Fania All-Stars.
AllMusic Review by John Bush