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Manny Oquendo and Libre: Los New Yorkiños!

As the chorus of one song states: “En la salsa de Nueva York como Oquendo y Libre no hay dos!” Translation: “In New York City salsa nobody equals Manny Oquendo and his crew!” Given his legendary status and longevity as a percussionist, it’s true that for Palladium-era swing with jazz sensibilities, this septuagenarian is the man! Los New Yorkinos, co-led by bassist extraordinaire Andy Gonzalez, showcases a tight-as-nails band with first-call trombonists like Jimmy Bosch and Angel “Papo” Vasquez.

Oquendo played bongo in Tito Puente’s early bands, and later in Tito Rodriguez’s orchestra. While Oquendo’s Emarcy sessions with Paul Quinchette and others show a strong inclination for jazz music, it was with Eddie Palmieri’s 1960s band La Perfecta that his solo style and arrangements-driving grooves that fueled a roaring-elephant trombone sound-became well-known. It’s a sound Oquendo revived when he and Gonzalez began Conjunto Libre in 1974. They incorporated Oquendo’s style with that of Arsenio Rodriguez, one of the pivotal figures in Afro-Cuban music.

The seven selections on Los New Yorkinos were unfinished tracks that the band decided to remix and complete. The tunes are potent dancehall grooves with arrangements that breathe and a band that pumps life through them with zest and superb musicianship. For a showcase of their ensemble skill check their rendition of Count Basie’s “Lester Leaps In,” the album’s lone instrumental. Highlights abound: “Quiereme y Veras,” a bolero by Cuban singer Xiomara Lougart; the rousing voice of sonero Jorge Maldonado crooning on the mambo-son “Chiquilla Ideal” and the socially conscious “Cuando Se Acabara.”

Oquendo and Libre are now an institution with a prestigious alumnus: David Valentin, Steve Turre, Nestor Torres, Jerry Gonzalez and others. Los New Yorkinos lives up to that legacy.

Originally Published