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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Salsa at the Library of Congress Mary Pickford Theatre

Salsa (Salsa, Inc./Fania Records, 1976). Dir Jerry Masucci & Leon Gast. (80 min, 35mm)Documentary and performance film centering around the historic 1973 Yankee Stadium concert by the Fania All Stars featuring Celia Cruz, Ray Barretto, Willie Colon, Larry Harlow, Johnny Pacheco, Mongo Santamaria, Ricardo Ray, Bobby Cruz, Billy Cobham, Manu Dibango, and various stars of the Latin music scene in New York and Puerto Rico.

Luckily Armand tipped me off about this movie being on the schedule..

First of all the movie was introduced by Larry Appelbaum who in the past year unearthed the Thelonious Monk featuring John Coltrane recordings made at Carnegie Hall back in 1957. Before playing the main event, Salsa, he played a short jam featuring Tito Puente with Hilton Ruiz on piano, a conga player who kicked out the jams, and other supreme backing. The performance was stellar. Larry told us that this was the last recorded performance of Tito Puente's life as he passed on two months later...

Then Salsa began....I'd heard about this movie.... Salsa was in its heyday in New York in the early - mid 1970s... in particular the FANIA record label had been putting out phenomenal stuff.. ... in 1976 FANIA organized a concert at Yankee Stadium.. they sold it out... and filmed the live show which featured Fania's stable of stars with some notable additions such as Celia Cruz, Jorge Santana (Carlos' brother who is a deadringer for his brothers' guitar tone/style), master conguero Mongo Santamaria and Manu Dibango who reprised his Soul Makossa hit at length.... interspersed with the performanced by Fania All Stars such as Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe, Ray Barretto, el Gran Combo, Cheo Feliciano was dialogue featuring a then just starting out Geraldo Rivera (yes, his style was already formed back then) describing the history of salsa music from the african drum, enslavement, arrival in the New World and hybridzation with Portuguese/Spanish/English culture...vintage clips from the golden age of Hollywood where also utilized to illustrate how salsa or latin music became slowly incorporated into the American mainstream... these clips couldn't help but make one laugh as they suffered from terrible stereotyping of the worse kind and placed side to side with the booty shaking salsa jams at Yankee Stadium proved striking.... feature clips including Al Jolson, a Carmen Miranda skit featuring Groucho Marx (who could shake quite well) and of course the venerable Desi Arnaz doing his Babalu schtick....

I found the movie extremely enjoyable and the performances inspiring.... if anything though I think Masucci's Salsa could have been a bit longer and perhaps explored more the genesis of the nuyorican salsa from the more traditional Cuban Son rhythmns.... however, the focus was on the performances and seeing how good they were I'd be quibbling to take issue with the film...

highly enjoyable and highly recommended... now to scour the planet for some vintage Willie Colon , El Gran Combo and Ray Barretto records... that shit is tight!

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