Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

New York City Salsa [Fania, 2007]
For 40 years now I've been turned off classic salsa by the horn tuttis--their blare, their flash, their pretentious precision. And the first time I heard Tipica 73 pianist-leader Sonny Bravo kick things off with the crashing intro of Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C Sharp Minor," I cringed. But long immersion in Puerto Rican culture, as well as three relatives who are part-time salsa musicians (none of whom, even the trumpeter, loves horn tuttis), has taught me to hear salsa's rhythms, especially as driven by the piano montunos and vocal coros that are so tight and gorgeous on this 30-track comp from the label that invented the stuff. I'm not attuned enough to readily distinguish one legend from another, but I know that around my family Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Hector Lavoe and Larry Harlow are revered. I note that as the style gains presence, the horns quiet down. And by the end of the second disc--Palmieri, Puente, Lavoe and who are these Lebron Brothers driving "Sin Ti"'s piano-conga-cowbell-trumpet over the top? I'm feeling it. A-