1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die
There are two kinds of leaders: overt and subtle. The overt ones generally get all the recognition; your Roosevelts and your Lincolns, whereas subtle guys like Herbert Hoover are forgotten despite their worthwhile contributions. It's the same way in music. A guy like Eddie Van Halen draws a lot more attention as a bandleader than say, any given rhythm guitarist. Such is the case with conga legend Ray Barretto on the album "Barretto Power."
Salsa music is a lot more like jazz than most give it credit for, with similar instrumental makeup and band structure. But while jazz bands tended to be led by the horn players or pianists, Latin bands are undeniably ruled by the percussionists. Claves and bongos are iconic pieces of Latin percussion, but the conga provides the ideal rhythm anchor because its taut drumhead provides a lower-pitched bass effect than that of a bongo.
It's easy to forget that this is Barretto's band because of all the other instruments in play. The horns rarely get the sort of solos they would get in standard jazz, but rather provide flourishes throughout. The piano makes for a fun groove as the lead on "Right On." But it's important to remember that the tone is being set by Barretto and his conga in the background. Pay close attention, and just like the bass guitar in a rock band, Barretto is plugging away and maintaining the rhythm.
Of course, there's a reason that lead guitarists end up getting all of the attention. A good solo, or even a bad solo, stands out more to the typical listener than even a great piece of rhythm. Admitting this, there are a couple of standalone solos from Barretto throughout the album to give the easygoing listener a good time. Opener "Oye La Noticia" features a strong burst of conga-staccato reminiscent of a metal blast-beat. The last track, "Power" features a full out solo that demonstrates Barretto's power (see what I did there?) on the instrument.
It's worth a little clarification that Barretto himself was not as humble as his role as the leader for his music group. The album's title, and its cover art depicting the artist's head overshadowing his musical minions, as well as his self-titled, Grammy-nominated track "Barretto," indicate that the fellow had quite an ego. Nonetheless, he knew that the background was his place in a recording, and he executed that perfectly.
INTERESTING FACT: Ray's family name is actually spelled "Barreto," but due to an issue with his birth certificate, an extra "t" was added. Why he didn't just go by "Barreto" as an artist, we'll never know.