Tue. Sep 26th, 2023

For each band that makes the large time, 1000’s of others fall by the wayside. One such band to endure that destiny was La Clave, a soulful Latin fusion group that launched a solitary self-titled album on Verve Information in 1973 earlier than disappearing with no hint. However not like many one-album wonders, La Clave received fortunate as a result of a few years later, a brand new and really completely different technology of listeners – many from the hip-hop world – resurrected the file and championed it for its “uncommon grooves.”

La Clave (whose title means “The Key” in English) was a band assembled and led by Benny Velarde, an in-demand percussionist who featured on many Latin jazz information of the period, together with ones by Mongo Santamaria and Vince Guaraldi. Born Bayardo Velarde in Panama Metropolis in 1929, he moved to San Francisco together with his household when he was sixteen and started taking part in percussion. After main a Bay Space band referred to as the Mambo Devils, his profession took a quantum leap in 1954 when Velarde joined West Coast vibraphonist Cal Tjader’s band, with whom he recorded a number of albums, together with 1958’s basic Latin Kick. (It was Tjader who first dubbed the percussionist “Benny,” purportedly as a result of he discovered “Bayardo” too arduous to pronounce).

One evening in 1973, Velarde was taking part in within the band of Bolivian-American jazz-funk keyboard maestro Cesar Ascarrunz, who was approached by John DeMarco, an enthusiastic music govt concerned in file manufacturing and artist administration. “(He) came to visit and he needed to make use of Cesar’s band to file,” remembered Velarde in 2011. “However Cesar didn’t wish to do it. So the man talked to me and informed me about it. He requested if I needed to do it, and I mentioned, ‘Yeah, certain, why not?’ So I used a number of the guys taking part in with me in Cesar’s band and we did this recording.”

DeMarco and his associate Marshall Leib oversaw the venture as govt producers, bringing in Tony Bruno, a former Tony Bennett-style MOR singer from New York, to provide the recording session, which might finally find yourself on Verve Information. Though we all know that Velarde used members of Cesar Ascarrunz’s band to type La Clave, their names weren’t listed within the credit when the group’s self-titled debut album was launched; we do, nevertheless, know a few of their nationalities, due to Richard Oliver’s authentic liner notes, which inform us that they got here to the Bay Space by the use of Mexico, Panama, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. There’s no details about the place and when the recording session occurred, however what is evident is that Velarde and his cohorts had been joined within the studio by Lalo Schifrin, an Argentinian jazz pianist and film composer who was then using excessive on the success of his soundtrack to Clint Eastwood’s Soiled Harry film.

Whereas Schifrin’s cameo could also be shocking on condition that La Clave was an unknown group, his participation within the venture most likely took place as a result of he had labored with DeMarco earlier than. The producer had overseen a Verve recording session for Schifrin in 1972, co-producing a single referred to as “Latin Soul,” whose arranger and co-writer was John D’Andrea, whom DeMarco additionally recruited for the La Clave session.

In keeping with Oliver’s liner notes, Schifrin joined the session when he “stopped by” the studio. “I used to be in a rush as a result of I had another issues to do,” the pianist defined to Wax Poetics in 2001. “I confirmed up, they put the music in entrance of me, and I did my factor, and that’s it. It was quite simple.”

He additionally introduced alongside two tracks for La Clave to play, a high-octane percussion-driven groove referred to as “Latin Slide” and the album’s closing quantity, “Cocoa Leaf,” an impromptu jam pushed by manic piano. His two tracks blended completely with the group’s horn- and organ-heavy Latin fusion aesthetic, combining parts of soul, rock, salsa, jazz, and blaxploitation funk into an eclectic and hard-to-pigeonhole sound.

La Clave opened impressively with a slick cowl of the Jaynetts’ 1963 R&B hit “Sally Go Spherical The Roses,” that sounded a bit like Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66 backed by Booker T & The MGs. The observe was considered one of a number of on the album that includes uncredited vocalists who sang luminous, super-smooth harmonies. Among the many different album highlights was an ingenious Latin jazz interpretation of soul man Donny Hathaway’s 1970 US R&B hit “The Ghetto,” an exhilarating revamp of bebop maestro Dizzy Gillespie’s Afro-Cuban basic “Soul Sauce,” and a hypnotic tackle soul-jazz organist Lonnie Smith’s “Transfer Your Hand.” The album primarily represented a progressive marriage of Latin music with funk, soul, and rock, the one stylistic outlier being the Velarde-penned “Baila Mi Guaguancò,” a traditional-style salsa observe the percussionist premiered on his 1962 debut solo album, Ay Que Rico (Very Tasty).

La Clave was issued with out fanfare. Velarde blamed the album’s industrial failure on poor promotion, claiming that Schifrin’s cameo was purported to be a crucial issue within the album’s promoting marketing campaign however a disagreement between the pianist and the file firm prevented it. “The file was killed… upon launch due to a feud with Lalo,” he mentioned in 2007. Schifrin remembered occasions in another way. “I used to be in the course of different initiatives,” he informed Wax Poetics. “I used to be engaged on a film so I didn’t have an excessive amount of time to remain within the (La Clave) session or hang around with the musicians.”

Regardless of the purpose, La Clave sank into obscurity. However the album’s destiny modified for the higher within the early Nineties when “Latin Slide” was sampled and recycled by a number of acts, together with British drum and bass maven Goldie, who drew inspiration from it to create “Nonetheless Life,” a observe which appeared on his High 10 UK hit album Timeless. That spotlight gave La Clave a brand new lease on life. At the moment, it stands as a hidden gem whose distinctive qualities are lastly being appreciated in full.

Order the Latin fusion cult basic La Clave now.

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