On Fania Records 2011 comes Hammock House ‘Africa Caribe’, a bold 2-Cd set produced and mixed by Spiritual Life’s Joaquin ‘Joe’ Claussell.
Late in 2010, Fania Records hand delivered the original multi-track recording tapes in a battered cardboard box to Joe Claussell’s NYC studio. Inside were reels of magnetic tape, and crumbling “Track Report” sheets from random days in the 1970s. For Joe it was an “Indiana Jones moment”. As the man says, “It was miraculous that they were still around, and the history of this stuff is just amazing.”
What Hammock House delivers is more than mere remixes. Each track was approached and assembled differently, each on its own terms. As Joe says, “Some songs were edited, some were time-stretched… many parts were re-recorded… some new parts were recorded on top.” Furthermore Joe elaborates, “I would listen to these songs and think what am I going to do with that?! A lot of them sounded perfect as they were. But the mentality of the ‘60s and ‘70s, when it came to music, people were just creating as artists – from the soul, from the heart. They took a lot of the technical stuff for granted. They were making music, not thinking about different mixes or anybody touching their art in the future. So I tried to keep the integrity of what’s there. Fania is very sacred to the Puerto Rican and Cuban heritage, so it was important that it get taken in by the right hands.”
Joe’s choice of tunes is interesting and eclectic. It’s a selection that allows him to re-work in his own way sometimes. Lou Pérez’s ‘African Fantasy’ is lifted onto another level; Celia Cruz’s spartan ‘Chango’ is re-built into a powerful statement punctuated by some intrepid piano, Ray Baretto’s ‘Exodus’ (the music from the Hollywod blockbuster not the Bob Marley’s anthem!) is taken into a new dimension and the always radical Eddie Palmieri is simply a boosted up. Joe even sneaks one of his own tunes into the set.
The live continuous mix CD is an attempt to create an epic journey that begins in Mother Africa and ends in New York. Of the concept Joe explains,“I wanted to do a futuristic mix, where stories are being created with soundscapes and tapestries, and segues work as introductions to each story. I wanted to create bridges through different rhythms, so I worked with my brother (Eddie Palmieri sideman) José, as well as other percussionists and musicians in the studio, to create parts that flow between. I mixed it live with four CD players, effects, and reel-to-reel, then took it into the studio and tightened up some of the levels through editing. I wanted to mix it live so you get more of a human feel from it, to stay true to the texture of this music. And I really wanted it to reflect on the process of working on this whole project.”
A lot of work has gone into this project and I was more than surprised when a musically discerning friend said she felt it sounded dated. That threw me. I’ve been a fan of Joe’s productions since the early days of Spiritual Life and the reality is that 15 years have slipped by since I played out tunes like ‘Lakoua’ and ‘All Loved Out’. That made me listen to ‘Africa Caribe’, over and over and in the end I have to say that this is essentially a Joe Claussell album, a mature Joe Claussell album. This is not Nuyorican Salsa, the clave has been displaced by an alternative set of global rhythms and a producer’s sensibility that is not afraid to combine live elements of jazz and rock music with deep, spiritual house. Salsoul 2011? A radical redraft!
I will therefore leave the last words to the man himself: “Looking back, I’m honoured and grateful to get to work on such historical music – and music I grew up with.”