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The 1989 album “Guasasa” is the last studio album for the Fania Six, the Fania All Stars offshoot created in 1976 by Columbia Records for marketing purposes. It features their rhythm section comprised of: Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Bobby Valentín, Roberto Roena, Nicky Marrero and virtuoso pianist Papo Lucca.
Clearly intended as a Latin jazz set, this album actually bears a more dance-oriented style (as in instrumental salsa, so to speak) as opposed to this band’s earlier, bolder California Jam date. While the former date was actually a real jam session, here they work with formal charts, calculated solo spots and a less-relaxed ambience that actually belies the laid-back feel of the album.
The main entrée on this album are definitely tracks number two and three. After the opener title track sets the mood with short solos from Barretto, Pacheco and invited guitarist Francisco Navarro, Fania Six’s version of Stevie Wonder’s “Why Can’t We Live Together”, superbly arranged by Bobby Valentín, builds in intensity before giving way to Lucca’s very first power display on keyboards (check out how he switches into synth drums at the end of his solo before giving way to Pacheco to bring things back home). The third track is their version of Grant Greissman’s classic The Sauce, which became famous in the 1990s via Chick Corea’s Elektric Band version, is redone here as “Los Seis Diferentes” (with the actual composing in the original LP credited to Pacheco and Jerry Masucci instead of Greissman). Luís Perico Ortiz cameos here in his first appearance with Fania since 1981, playing all the horn parts and delivering a short, gorgeous flugelhorn solo. After a re-quoting of the main theme, things shift into overdrive as Pacheco leads the jam, followed by another powerful solo, this time on piano, by Lucca (in my opinion, one of his all-time best).
The cover of Gypsy Kings’ “Allegria” appears on this album and that’s perhaps where the idea for this album came from. An actual outtake from Fania All Stars previous album, Bamboleo, where the horns actually don’t play, this track brings back Navarro as the main soloist (he was the guest performer on Bamboleo, by the way), followed by a big solo from Bobby Valentín. The cue for discovering this fact is actually listening to Nicky Marrero’s timbale tuning here. While the actual “Guasasa” session is the first recording ever where Nicky uses his current tuning, with the hembra (low) drum tuned in E-flat which back then was way higher than norm (and soon after that has slowly become the norm for most current timbaleros), in “Allegria” he’s still using the lower tones from the previous album.
The following three tracks were credited as “Fania All Stars” compositions. “The Click”, a sextet original not to be mistaken with Miriam Makeba’s same-titled super hit, serves as a laid back workout for the six main performers, with Pappo Lucca (this track’s arranger) serving himself a couple of extra solo bars on his showcase. “De Nuevo A La Carga” is the percussion feature of the set, with Barretto, Nicky and Roberto Roena stretching out with short solos, followed by three choruses with Pacheco’s flute in charge, all propelled by Bobby Valentín’s furious bass lines. Valentín, this track’s real original composer and arranger, actually re-worked this chart as an intro tune for his own band’s concerts featuring his own rhythm section (check his Live in Bellas Artes DVD on Bronco, for example). The closer “Quasedito” is this date’s most jazz-oriented track and an impressive feature for Lucca, Navarro and Pacheco.
Although lack of promotion affected this album’s outcome (besides the fact that Fania at that time, or even at their 1970s prime for that matter, never knew how to promote a jazz album), it became an impressive success in Japan. As a result of this, the Fania Six, billed as the Fania All Stars, returned to Japan for a very successful tour with guest flutist Dave Valentín.
Papo Lucca – Piano, Keyboards
Bobby Valentín – Bass
Ray Barretto – Congas
Roberto Roena – Bongos, Cowbell
Johnny Pacheco – Flute, Güiro, Maracas
Nicky Marrero – Timbales
Special Invited Guest:
Luís “Perico” Ortiz – Flugelhorn “Los Seis Diferentes”
Francisco Navarro – Acustic and Electric Guitar
Johnny Pacheco, Adalberto Santiago – (“Back To Charge”, “The Click”)
Johnny Pacheco – “The Six Different”
Producer – Jerry Masucci
Recording Director – Johnny Pacheco
Engineer – Irv Greenbaum
Arrangements – Lucho Servidio, Johnny Pacheco (“Guasasa”, “Los Seis Diferentes”, “Allegria”), Bobby Valentín (“Why Can’t We Live Together”, “De Nuevo A La Carga”), Papo Lucca (“The Click”), Ricky González (“Quasedito”)
Original Album Cover Art and Design – Rickey Ricardo Gaskins
Many thanks to Heriberto Rios.
Written by Thomas Muriel