If you buy only one detailed historical set chronicling the musical connection between Jews and Latinos in the US, make it this one. With two CDs and a voluminous 46 page book of comprehensive notes and essays from Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin and others, this would seem to be the last word on a subject you may not have even thought was worth a cursory mention, let alone the deluxe treatment it gets in this fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable package.
Picking up where other compilations such as Bagels and Bongos, Jewface and Songs for the Jewish-American Jet Set (all also courtesy of the folks at Idelsohn, who have created their own cottage industry), this 40 song, chronologically sequenced anthology shows how Jewish musicians were an integral part of Latin bands and conversely how Jewish artists such as Herb Alpert and Carole King, to pick the two most recognizable names on this set, had success working in the Latino musical idiom.
The journey begins inauspiciously in 1947 with Irving Kaufman’s novelty “Moe the Schmo Takes a Rhumba Lesson” and continues through 1983 with a substantial percentage of the choices serious jazz or dance selections including such legendary figures as Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria and Stan Getz. Each track has extensive yet concise notes about why it was included and the genealogy of the musicians involved. Album sources of the songs are often referenced for those that want more of where this came from.
Even those not interested in the history of the musical cross-pollination of these cultural communities will find this a breezy few hours that’s as fun and occasionally humorous as it is educational. Perhaps there will be volume two in the future that picks up where this leaves off and should include Berlin’s fine work with Lobos. Surely there were some Jewish players in Santana’s bands too (the explosive Harvey Avern track comes pretty close to that sound), expanding this concept from the pop, lounge and jazz genres into the rock and roll sphere.