In this album, Joe Bataan’s sixth for the Fania label, Joe demonstrates his rare ability to blend Latin soul, salsa, and tropical music. For example, the first song of the album, “Coco-E”, composed by Joe, brings us a festive performance by Joe and his orchestra. When the chorus intones a-e la fiesta va empezar, the listener is immediately transported to a festive Caribbean carnival where they can take part in the festivities.
The following nine and one-half minutes are dedicated to the beautiful classic ballad, “I Wish You Love”. Joe again shows his versatility as he treats this song in two ways. In Part 1, we get to enjoy the romantic approach, while in Part 2, Bataan swings the tune with a clever mambo backing by the band. We then get to hear the band perform a Latin guajira titled “Para Puerto Rico Voy” where Edwin Torres conveys to us his wishes to return to his tropical paradise, Puerto Rico, backed by a melodic coro that offers to join him. Unpredictably, the arrangement changes into a Oye Como Va groove where Torres does his inspiraciones, while Robert Rodriguez colorfully backs him up with his flute.
In “If I Were A King,” Joe shows us the doo-wop side of his repertoire. This wonderful ballad is expertly arranged and smartly accompanied by a tight vocal group that allowed this writer to sing some bass with. Joe’s inimitable treatment of a Latin soul ballad adds to the overall beauty of this song. In “Charangaringa” we are treated to a cha-cha that evolves into a delightful Afro-Caribbean arrangement. “Ramona” is a crafty guaguancó that tells the story of a guy who takes a girl out dancing just to find out she doesn’t know how. The verses (guias) are adroitly vocalized by the coro in excellent fashion. “El Regreso” is an up tempo danceable number that starts off with a variation of Trip to Mamboland then turns into a mambo featuring Torres on vocals and finishes up in 6/8 rhythm. “Mujer” is a lovely bolero that starts off with the vocal group harmonizing smartly during the intro. Torres takes over on vocals with the coro backing up astutely while the tune progresses into a cha-cha-cha and the song finishes as it opened.
The final tune on the album is the popular theme to the hit movie “Shaft”, which was previously done by Isaac Hayes. Joe Bataan shows his brilliance with this clever rendition. The band is truly put to the test with this complex arrangement. Joe and the chorus shine throughout this number, which received international acclaim when first released in 1971.
When I met Joe, he was in the process of straightening his life out. He had experienced difficult times growing up in Spanish Harlem and had consequently found himself in trouble with the police for associating with the wrong crowd during the Street Gang era. He was now on the threshold of making a name for himself in the entertainment field. It was 1966 and there was a movement going on in the Latin music world. Young Latinos longed for a sound that they could relate to and Joe would be the one to bring it to them. When I heard his band perform Gypsy Woman at the Colgate Gardens in The Bronx, and I witnessed the wild reaction of the youthful crowd, I was thoroughly convinced that Bataan was on his way to stardom. I wanted to sign him up but was beaten to the punch by a fledgling label by the name of Fania—a move that was instrumental in putting this great record label and Joe Bataan on the map. So prepare yourself for a treat as you listen to this wonderful package of Joe Bataan’s music. What’s more, if you were not a Bataan fan prior to listening to this album, there is a strong possibility that you will become one after listening to “Saint Latin’s Day Massacre”.