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BBR “Heats It Up” with Salsoul Orchestra, Joe Bataan, Herbie Mann, Chris Jasper

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Joe Bataan - SalsoulAs Big Break Records’ first releases for 2014 hit stores in the U.K. today (more on those shortly!), the time is right to take a look at more from the label’s closing slate of 2013.  This eclectic roster – from legendary Latin music artist Joe Bataan, the post-Vince Montana iteration of The Salsoul Orchestra, jazz flautist Herbie Mann and soul man Chris Jasper – is doubtless one of BBR’s strongest.

So influential was Joe Bataan’s 1974 Mericana Records release Salsoul that it literally inspired an entire label.  The Filipino-African-American artist, born Bataan Nittolano in New York’s Spanish Harlem, captured the manifold energies of the city streets on his records which blended street-corner R&B with Latin dance rhythms.   Incarcerated at age 16 for car theft, the young man turned his life around with music.  He learned music theory from a Juilliard graduate while in prison, and taught himself piano.  Soon, Bataan became known for composing his own songs and transforming popular hits like The Impressions’ “Gypsy Woman” into a soulful style that was distinctly his own.  Often singing in English over rhythms familiar to Spanish-speaking audiences, Bataan tapped into both markets with a series of albums beginning in 1967 for the pioneering salsa label Fania Records.  By 1972, however, the relationship between Bataan and Fania had soured.  He formed his own Ghetto Records label even as he fulfilled his Fania contract that year, and soon he sought out Joe, Ken and Stanley Cayre of the new Mericana label.  Bataan made it clear that he would like to throw in his lot with Mericana, and the result was Salsoul.

Salsoul, its title simply stating Bataan’s mix of salsa and soul, looked to both the past and the future.  He delivered Spanish interpretations of songs he previously recorded in English (“My Cloud” as “Mi Nube,” “Ordinary Guy” as “Muchacho Ordinario”), a funky mambo take on the standard “When Sunny Gets Blue,” and a sweet-soul reworking of “Mujer Mia,” another tune from his Fania days.  Instrumentals – including a groovy, dancefloor-ready take on Eumir Deodato’s “Latin Strut” – sat alongside vocal tracks from the hard-hitting tale of “Johnny” to the ballad plea for “Peace, Friendship, Solidarity.”  But all of the album’s nine songs contained Bataan’s urgent and brassy yet melodic stamp.  Mericana was rewarded for its belief in Bataan when Salsoul reportedly sold over 15,000 copies in just one week of release.  Ever the canny businessmen, the Cayre brothers took the title of Bataan’s album as the name of their new record label, installing Bataan as quarter-owner of an interest in the company and as A&R director.  Salsoul proved how an artist could bridge genres and cultures, and its namesake label carried on its tradition.  BBR has expanded this landmark album with four rare mono single versions plus the non-LP track “Continental Square Dance.”  Nick Robbins has remastered the album and Rico “Superbizzee” Washington has written new notes drawing on an interview with Bataan.

After the jump: The Salsoul Orchestra and more – plus full track listings and order links for all four titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 13, 2014 at 09:28