Written by 12:02 pm Vinyl, Analog, Audiophile, Audiophile Music, Audiophile News

Rare, In-Demand Verve, Blue Thumb and Fania Records Latin/Brazilian Soul-Jazz Grooves Reissued On 180-gram Vinyl Featuring Ray Barretto, João Donato and La Clave

Mark Smotroff explores some fine recently reissued Latin & Brazilian vinyl soul-jazz grooves…

By Mark Smotroff

Some of the most desired recordings in the vinyl collecting universe these days are rare Latin and Brazilian oriented recordings from the 1960s and ‘70.  Finding these records, if you are a collector is a big challenge because a they didn’t sell in droves back in the day and those who did buy them usually played them to death as they were great party records records. I also suspect that some of them were regionally distributed to key markets serving those communities. 

Fortunately, some of the major record labels which now own the back catalogs on several important labels have been bringing many of these recordings back into the limelight, allowing new generations of music fans to discover some amazing titles, many of which are pricey collector’s items. In part, the value has escalated because of the universe of beat-hungry DJs around the world have snapped up these gems for sampling and remixes.

I can talk about this a little bit from more or less first-hand experience because I’ve been trying to collect these records for a while now, and they are very elusive. I know some actual working DJs locally here in San Francisco who seek out these rare LPs (and 45 RPM singles!) for their sets.  And then, when I do find them, much like vintage soul records, they are often very “well loved” (my term for a record that has seen a lot of play but can still be played) to others that are downright trashed with scratches, grime and warps. Party records often did not get the tender loving care they deserved back in the day.   

Still, some people will pay fairly hefty coin for these records in most any condition given their scarcity.

Following are three recent reissues of some rare sides which are back on the market after years of being out of print.  Two are from Universal Music’s Verve By Request series, a  collaboration with Jack White’s Third Man Pressing. Also, you’ll find a release by the legendary Ray Barretto courtesy of Craft Recordings, the boutique label owned by Concord music which owns the catalogs of legendary Latin label Fania Records as well as Fantasy, Prestige, Milestone and many other now-iconic jazz and soul-jazz imprints.

In general, all three of these albums sound very good to excellent. The vinyl is quiet and well centered on all the releases. The album production cover production quality ranges from very good to outstanding.  

If you are interested in any of these albums you can click through to Amazon via the headers which follow. I’ve also included links to YouTube streaming versions of key tunes to give you an idea of what to expect. Some great grooves here!

La Clave

Of the three albums I’m reviewing here today this release by a somewhat mysterious one-off group named La Clave was perhaps the biggest surprise. Prior to this reissue, I had never heard of — or even seen! — the record anywhere before.  

Formed by Latin Jazz session percussionist Benny Velarde (Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, Vince Guaraldi, etc.) and seemingly featuring keyboards from five time Grammy winning Argentinian film and television composer Lalo Schifrin (Dirty Harry, Mission Impossible, etc.), La Clave’s album apparently disappeared as quickly as it appeared back in 1973.  

This is an interesting listen with some fun surprises such as the funky soul-jazz take on “Sally Go Round The Roses.”  Their version of Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto” is smoker. And if the credits on the YouTube video are accurate, this seems to have many notable players on it including Martin Fiero (Jerry Garcia Band) on Sax, Willie Colon on bass, plus some smokin’ Santana-esque soloing from guitarist Gabriel Rondon.

If you’re looking for cool uncommon grooves, spending approximately $23 on this reissue is still a whole lot cheaper than trying to track down a rare “near mint” pressing which could run you as much is $150 according to noted Record Collector’s market place in Discogs. Fun stuff for sure. 

Ray Barretto’s Que Viva La Música

Belatedly celebrating the 50th anniversary of this seminal 1972 Fania Records release, Craft Recordings has pulled out the stops for this revered Ray Barretto album. Mastered off the original analog tapes by Kevin Gray and re-creating the album art in the style of the original editions, this is a fine sounding and looking reissue. 

According to the official press materials, this album is “considered by many Afro-Cuban music scholars to be a highlight of Barretto’s prolific career – as well as a touchstone of ’70s salsa music, Que Viva La Música found the bandleader reaching a new apex.”

For those new to Mr. Barretto’s music, the press release bio explains: “Conguero and bandleader Ray Barretto (1929–2006) was one of the foremost names in Latin jazz, boogaloo, and Afro-Cuban rhythms. A pioneering salsa artist, who also kept one foot planted firmly in jazz, the versatile musician remained in the spotlight for more than five decades.”

I can’t add much more to this, but I can tell say that I’ve never heard a Ray Barretto record that I didn’t like! And for about $30 on Amazon, its a great deal for such a well made reissue which sounds wonderful. 

João Donato’s A Bad Donato.

I’ve seen this 1970 album by Brazil’s João Donato around for decades and had never heard it, I admit. I remember seeing A Bad Donato in jazz sections and even in some bargain bins back in the day and was always curious about it for some reason. As I’ve been getting quite deeply into Brazilian music over the past several years I was excited to finally get my hands on a copy as original pressings go for quite a bit these days

This new pressing from Third Man is quite good. While I wouldn’t be surprised if it was created from a high resolution digital source, in general the pressing sounds real good even when you turn up the volume on your amp.  I appreciate that the producers even recreated the general look of the original Blue Thumb Records label which this album was originally released on.  

From the Third Man website we learn: “Donato departs from his Brazilian bossa nova roots, incorporating an eclectic, and electric, mix of funk, fusion and psychedelic pop. The result is a groovy Fender Rhodes driven set, highlighted by “The Frog” and “Lunar Tune.”

This music here is indeed funky, spunky and even leaning toward progressive jazz flavors. And that shouldn’t be surprising given that the album was produced by none other than Wrecking Crew vibraphone legend Emil Richards who plays on it alongside legends like Grammy nominated/winning keyboardist/producer Eumir Deodato, early Weather Report percussionist/drummer Dom Um Romano, trumpet brothers Pete and Conte Candoli and the future sax giant Ernie Watts (Frank Zappa, Rolling Stones, Charlie Haden, etc.).  

For about $22 on Amazon, this is another easy one to pick up without worry.

[Mark Smotroff has been reviewing music at AudiophileReview for many years but can also be found at AnalogPlanet.com. In the past he has written for Sound & Vision, DISCoveries, EQ, Mix and many more.  An avid vinyl collector and music enthusiast who has also worked in marketing communications for decades you can learn  more about his background at LinkedIn.]

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