Tuesday, April 28, 2009

When reviewing new releases for publications, one often gets smitten with a new release. Most of the time, the love doesn't last -- once you're not listening to something as closely, whatever beauty it had fades and when it's heard again ... well, it's like bumping into an old aquaintance you've forgotten about.

But every now and again, there's real gold among the thousands of new releases, and one of my favorites is Ray Barretto's "Time was -- Time is" from 2005 on O+ Music.

It was Ray's last studio release, and it's a fine tribute to this incredible musician who gave us "El Watusi" in the 60s, 1972's "Carnival" and this, before his death in early 2006. His contributions to salsa music is legendary -- but his jazz was also first rate.

I find the opening track of "Time was - Time is" -- "Drume Negrita" -- completely enchanting. With Barretto on shakers, pianist Robert Rodriguez outlines the harmonic structure with a series of whole-note chords.

Then, in a beautifully realized and powerful statement, Sean Conly's bass gives the tune's bottom end. It's a wonderful fulfillment of the rhythm and chordal presence, with a snaking rhythm moving down a descending melody line.

By the time the two horns -- Joe Magnarelli on trumpet and altoist Myron Walden -- join, the song balances on the interplay between the elements.

There are times I will crave another listen to this delicious serving the way some people crave ice cream -- it begins with the hypnotic shakers, then the bass line ...

Throught the CD, Baretto's percussion work is moved up in the mix, creating a more urgent feel to the music. It's not in-your-face percussion, but -- typical of Barretto -- perfectly placed and played.

The arrangements and perfomances here -- recorded over a three-day session at the end of November 2004 -- are sublime and fresh. The septet with two horns is an unusual combination, but it works -- they're light and nimble, and Magnarelli is fantastic here.

It's become one of my favorite recordings of the decade, one that earns repeated listens and deserves to become a classic. As a final effort, it shows what an immense talent Barretto was.

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