Not Typical Tipica
Every musical style has its moments of reckoning with the past, when its active practitioners circle around to acknowledge the masters who came before. This happened in an unusual way in New York City's Latin music community in the mid-'70s. Although the Fania label was riding high with hit after dance floor hit, a small group of its musicians began looking to vintage Cuban son, rural guajira, and conjunto music, dusting off the compositions of the tres master and bandleader Arsenio Rodríguez.
Larry Harlow's sparkling Salsa, recorded in 1974, belongs to that moment. A tribute of sorts to Rodríguez, it's an early example of what came to be called tipica—hard-driving arrangements built on the rhythms and structures of Cuban dance music of the 1950s. The pianist Harlow, who was part of a small group of Jewish musicians who'd become accepted on the Latin scene, understood the streamlined allure of Rodríguez's group. He also knew that in 1974, dancers expected more sound. So he grafted energetic horn charts and tricky jazzlike compositional interludes onto the vintage conjunto rhythms, and got the members of his orchestra, a top-shelf Fania ensemble featuring trumpeter Ray Maldonado and bassist Eddie "Guagua" Rivera, to attack the music with the lusty abandon of Rodríguez's legendary bands.
From the opening "No quiero," one of four hits from this set, it's clear Harlow is on to something: The angular brass catcalls are thoroughly modern, while the relaxed ad-libs of singer Junior Gonzalez, particularly on the age-old son montuno "Popo pa mi," hark back to a more gracious age of Latin dance music. It's a rare generational push-pull, and throughout it Harlow manages to tip his hat to the regal Rodríguez while blasting out a party underneath.
Genre: World, Latin
Released: 1974, Fania
Key Tracks: "No quiero," "La cartera," "Sueltame."
Catalog Choice: Hommy: A Latin Opera
Next Stop: Tipica '73: Tipica '73
After That: Manny Oquendo y Libre: Ritmo, sonido y estilo
Book Page: 343