La Clave del Sabor Ismael Miranda Salsa gorda’s pretty boy, Ismael Miranda stands out on his own on this solo recording where he brings us the best of New York and Puerto Rico. He had already made a name for himself fronting Larry Harlow’s early band, collaborating with the Fania All-Stars and then striking out with his own band, La Revelación.

La Clave del Sabor breaks the handsome crooner out of his papi chulo rep giving us more of a hardedged interpretation not only in his singing style but in the music he’s picked as highlighted in the two Curet-Alonso tunes, “Galera Tres” and “Para Ismael Rivera”. A dark yet profound number on the injustice of the justice system, “Galera Tres” speaks out against inmate abuse by the system and each other. A laid back, a caballo New York street feel, “Galera Tres” features a solo by tresero Nelson Gonzalez giving the number a jailhouse metropolis sound ala Los Cachimbos.

Arranged by big band master Ray Santos, Miranda turns in his good looks for bloody fists in this ode to the thug life. New York is turned around to Puerto Rico in the tribute to Ismael Rivera as arranged by Luis Garcia. Listen to the harmonies of the trumpets, the wah-wah Cuevas bass that follows Miranda’s rhythmic diction, and conga drumming of Milton Cardona. A great trumpet solo by Luis Perico Ortiz prefaces the tribute coro that pays homage to the master singer for opening the doors to Miranda. As the story goes, Harlow was looking for a vocalist for his fledging band and was auditioning Maelo for the lead spot.

After the audition, Maelo called Harlow over to the side and told him that he’d do better with the young kid because he was already a seasoned fox and would be looking to do his own thing. That was the break Miranda needed. Years later, when Maelo fell on hard times, it was Miranda who then sought him out to lend a hand. A hair standing honor to Maelo whom Miranda calls an institution for singers, the king of bomba and plena, a devotee of the Black Christ and a patriot of Puerto Rican culture. The opening track, “Rebeca” is a lively yet hardcore salsa dance number. The Garcia arrangement models that of the early Louie Ramirez days when the Fania All Stars arranger began using string motifs above the brass refining the gorda tropical sound.

Don’t forget me Miranda cries out to Rebeca in a voice that is crisp, clean, clear albeit a bit nasal yet always on point with pitch and improvisation. “Yo No Me Vuelvo a Enamorar” has a very island, lyrical feel to this Pedro L. Toledo arrangement. A pretty sound utilizing strings, synthesizer, French horns and a touch towards r&b and pop in the mambo, Miranda is compelling in his anguish to never love again because, as he sings it, love is a lie…as is this phrase. “No Te Voy a Dejar Ir” (by the same composer who told us he’d never love again) really takes us retro into the machista world of salsa. About a guy who sticks to his girl like gum, the Luis Cruz arrangement is on cue for the dancer building up the frenzy with crescendos that spark the feet while moving the bod. “Amigo Dejal” continues the misogeny with male advice that counsels his friend to leave the no good woman. Javier Vasquez’ arrangement goes back to the late 60s Cachimbos style he was famous for writing for Maelo. The breaks, the harmonized trumpets and ‘bones, and Nelson’s tres all point to Maelo’s distinctive New York Puerto Rico style.

Intoxicating in its narcotic affect. Johnny Ortiz’s “Espiritu en Flor” brings us out of the musical stupor into a more light and pretty sounding bomba. Its lyrics refreshingly sweet and cultural, this danceable bomba brings us closer to the native African derived musical genre autochthonous to Puerto Rico in a manner that is more in line with salsa and dancing than with rigorous research. Penned by the singer himself, Miranda shines in this Carlos del Carpio bolero arrangement of “Mi Decisión”. A beautiful trumpet solo by Ortiz accompanies the schmaltzy strings that compliment the singer’s decision to stop chasing after unrequited love. Ruben Blades wrote it and Louie Ramirez arranged this number about Miranda’s quest for a cure for bad love. “Aunque Me Duela” has a definite New York stamp with funky bass lines, piercing brass and a polyrhymic engine that takes you “a caballo style” to the clubs in New York that were happening at the time.

La Clave del Sabor features the best of Puerto Rico and New York’s street sound. A career defining production for “el niño bonito” that went from the streets of New York to finding his fortune on the Island of Puerto Rico. Credits: Producer: Ismael Miranda Executive Producer: Jerry Masucci Musical Director: Luis Garcia Original Cover Design: Ron Levine Original Cover Photo – Luis Armando Ruiz Luis Garcia – Arranger “Rebeca”, “Para Ismael Rivera”, “Espiritu En Flor” Ray Santos – Arranger “Galera Tres” Pedro L. Toledo – Arranger “Yo No Me Vuelvo A Enamorar” Luis Cruz – Arranger “No Te Voy A Dejar Ir” Javier Vazquez – Arranger “Amigo Dejala” Carlos del Carpio – Arranger “Mi Decision” Louie Ramirez – Arranger “Aunque Me Duela”

Written by Aurora Flores