Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


LIBRE, Manny Oquendo and

An influential experimental band, compared to Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers as a school for Latin music's future luminaries, co-founded in New York City in 1974 by leader/percussionist Manny Oquendo (b 1 January 1931, Brooklyn, NYC; d 25 March 2009, Bronx) and musical director/bassist Andy González (b 1 January 1951, Manhattan, NYC) after they worked together for Eddie Palmieri. The concept was music based on Latin roots, not merely imitating them, with jazzier, street-real sound; they perpetuated Palmieri's 'trombanga' trombones and flute combination (using three or four 'bones instead of Palmieri's two) until the mid-'80s, then just 'bones (up to five), the lineup completed by a rhythm section (piano, bass, timbales, bongo, conga, güiro), lead vocals and chorus, sometimes adding strings or string synthesizer, tres, baritone sax, trumpet, flugelhorn, more percussion; characterized by rugged and aggressive sound, getting away from the 'cold, unemotional and mechanical sound' of studio salsa sessions (a quote on their first LP sleeve).

Oquendo as a child lived upstairs from Almacenas Hernández, a leading Latin record shop. He debuted in 1946 with bandleader/pianist Charlie Valero (b 20 February 1920, NYC), played timbales '47 at Chano Pozo's first NYC appearance, in '48 with José Curbelo (replacing Tito Puente); during the '50s with Puente, Tito Rodriguez and Vicentico Valdés. He helped establish the trombanga sound with Palmieri's Conjunto La Perfecta '62-7, remaining with Palmieri until '74; sessioned with Johnny Pacheco, Larry Harlow, Israel 'Cachao' Lopez and others.

González studied violin in grade school, changed to bass at junior high school, turned pro '64 co-founding a Latin jazz quintet with his older brother conguero/trumpeter Jerry González, attended NYC's elite Music and Art High School and made his recording debut on On Top '67 on Fania (followed by Hey Sister '68) during two years with bandleader/ pianist Monguito Santamaria (b 1946, Havana, Cuba; Mongo's son). He worked with Ray Barretto '69-71 (except for six months with Dizzy Gillespie), Eddie Palmieri '71-4; also played/sessioned with Kenny Dorham, Clifford Thornton, Machito, Tito Rodriguez, Chico O'Farrill, Charlie Palmieri, Rubén Blades, Hank Jones, Jazz Composers' Orchestra, Kip Hanrahan, Jaco Pastorius, Astor Piazzolla, J.C. Heard, Paul Simon, Hilton Ruiz, Charlie Sepulveda, brother Jerry's Fort Apache Band (with whom he made his UK debut '90), Tito Puente's Golden Latin Jazz All Stars (appearing with them at London's Royal Festival Hall, July '93), Essence All Stars, many others.

Both Oquendo and González were in Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino, whose LPs Concepts In Unity '75 and Lo Dice Todo '77 on Salsoul included the backbone of Libre, who then signed with that label for Con Salsa ... Con Ritmo Vol. 1 '76, Tiene Calidad -- Con Salsa ... Con Ritmo Vol. 2 '78, Los Lideres De La Salsa '79, Increible '81, then switched to Montuno for a hit in Billboard's top ten Hot Latin LPs Ritmo, Sonido y Estilo '83, their last album for over a decade (due to having to buck the merengue and salsa romántica trends, along with 'tone-deaf salespeople who only wanted something that was proven to sell', explained Andy); organized their own sessions '91, half of which were issued as Ahora on the small AMO label '94. Signed with Milestone for Mejor Que Nunca '94; the follow-up On The Move! (Muevete!) '96 was recorded live at Bimbo's 365 Club in San Francisco in May. Other Libre founder-members included Jerry on conga, trumpet, flugelhorn. Former La Perfecta trombonists Barry Rogers (d 19 April 1991) and Jose Rodrigues played on Libre's first three LPs; other trombonists included Papo Vásquez (b 24 February 1958, Philadelphia; with Libre from c.'74; debuted as leader of Latin jazz group on Breakout '92 on Timeless), Jimmy Bosch (b 18 October 1959, Hoboken NJ; debuted with Libre '78, was a Ray Barretto sideman mid-'80s to early '90s, nicknamed 'El Trombon Criollo' because of his rootsy style: he transformed Andy Garcia's film Cachao: Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos '93 'with a typically ecstatic solo', wrote Tomek, and debuted with his own band March '96), Dan Reagan (debuted on '81 album), Leonard Pollara (b 25 December 1959, Albuquerque NM; with Libre since '83), Norman Hogue (b 12 August 1959, Flushing, Queens, NYC; a regular since '83), Reinaldo Jorge (b Santurce, Puerto Rico), Ed Byrne, Steve Turre (who also plays conch shell), Wayne Wallace, Barry Olsen. Flautist Dave Valentín (b 29 April 1952, South Bronx, NYC) played on five of their albums, was a founder member of Ricardo Marrero and the Group while he and Marrero attended NYC Music and Art High School late '60s (LPs included Time '77 and Jessica '79, latter with former La Perfecta lead singer Ismael Quintana, both on Vaya), pursued a solo career playing fusion in the late '70s with a string of albums on GRP; signed with Tropijazz '95; performed on Orquesta Son Primero's notable Charanga -- Tradicion Cubana En Nueva York '87 on Montuno. Future pop-jazz flautist Néstor Torres (b 25 April c.1957, Mayagüez, PR) substituted for Valentín on Libre's second album. Pianist Oscar Hernández (b 1955, NYC) played on band's '76-83 albums (only one track of '83 LP, ex-Tipica 73 and Los Kimbos member Joe Mannozzi played on the rest), was influenced by Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner; worked with Barretto, Blades, Seis del Solar, many others; produced albums by Camilo Azuquita, Rafael de Jesús, Carabali (toured UK with them '89), Daniel Ponce, Orlando Watusi. Machito alumnus Willie Rodriguez (b 20 July 1951, NYC) filled the piano chair from '83.

Following Jerry's departure to concentrate on leading the Fort Apache Band, George Delgado (b 19 July 1965, Bronx, NYC) occupied the conga chair until relocating to PR '95 to play bongos with Tony Vega; replaced by ex-La Exclusiva conguero Roberto Carrero. Libre's vocalists have included Héctor 'Tempo' Alomar (joined '75, sang on Libre's '76-9 LPs; also sang with Néstor Torres, Charanga América, Johnny 'Dandy' Rodriguez, Grupo ABC and Roberto Roena), Tony 'Pupy Cantor' Torres (joined '75, sang on Libre's '76-83 LPs; later sang with Willie Rosario '86-7, Mulenze '95), Herman Olivera (b 1960, Newark NJ; replaced Alomar on '81 LP, departed '91, sang with La Exclusiva, Cruz Control, Pacheco, Cachao; made solo debut with Chequea La Mercancia '93 on Dis-Sal; shared lead vocals on Evoluciones del Son '96 on Catman by Rikoson All Stars, also featuring Papo Vásquez and Hernández), Frankie Vásquez (b 6 January 1958, Guayama, PR; replaced Olivera, Libre album debut on Mejor Que Nunca; also sang with Fuego '77, Sonido Taibori, Orquesta Calidad, Chi Hua Hua's Orquesta Metropolitana, Wayne Gorbea, Javier Vásquez, Angel Vaillant's Conjunto Modelo, Henry Fiol, Junior González, Frankie Morales, Charanson, others); Olivera returned '95 to share lead vocals with Vásquez.

Libre toured in South America, Africa, Europe (including UK debut '92; made triumphant return October '96); they appeared in Leon Ichaso's film Crossover Dreams '85 starring Blades; Libre personnel performed on the track 'Descarga de Turre' on Steve Turre's Right There '91 on Antilles. Andy selected and sequenced an excellent double CD compilation More Than Mambo '95 on Verve (liner notes feature an interview with Manny and Andy); Manny made tuition video On Timbales '96 on Alchemy Pictures including Andy, Willie Rodriguez and Carrero.