Friday, January 2, 2009

The timeless Tito Puente

Posted By on 01.02.09 at 02:35 PM

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When it comes to music, the Internet is increasingly fulfilling its early promise as the ultimate library. Though much of the music it holds is illegally or quasi-legally posted, sometimes it feels like you can find nearly everything ever recorded online if you're willing to do some serious digging.

Thankfully it's not always necessary to resort to this vast gray market to find great music that fell out of print decades ago. In 2008 legitimate record labels continued to churn out killer reissues--so many, in fact, that I was often tempted to simply let myself recede into the past, basking in vintage sounds as fresh and vital as anything made today.

Leading the charge over the past couple years has been the revived Fania Records, which was the key salsa label from the 60s through the early 80s. One of the label's best reissues of 2008 went back even further, though--the music on the first two volumes of Tito Puente's The Complete 78s (two more are on the way) originally came out on the great Tico label in the late 40s and early 50s.

Puente, a New York native, first made a splash in the early 40s, as the timbale player in Machito's big band--his flair for the dramatic inspired his boss to move him to the front of the stage, a position that soon became standard for all timbaleros. After returning from the war and forming his own band, Puente put out a ridiculous number of records. The four Fania double-CD collections will include all 156 tracks he cut for 78 RPM release between 1949 and 1955 in New York City--ground zero of the mambo craze he helped fuel, where nightclubs like the Palladium drew the hip and beautiful with a steady diet of Afro-Caribbean sounds.

Puente enjoyed a long and fruitful career, but these recordings are some of his most potent and important, setting the stage for the salsa explosion of the 60s. Though he'd later weather and adapt to just about every mutation the music went through, with these songs he was shaping it himself.

Next week I'll discuss more reissues, including a bumper crop from Africa.

Today's playlist:

Mamoru Fujieda, Patterns of Plants II (Tzadik)
Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador)
Joe Lovano, Symphonica (Blue Note)
Jards Macalé, Macao (Biscoito Fino)
New Bloods, The Secret Life (Kill Rock Stars)

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