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Willie Colón's "La Gran Fuga" is an Impressive Gateway Into Salsa and Latin Music

Colón's 1970 Release Features a Heavyweight Team of Fania Superstars Including Héctor Lavoe

Don’t let the album cover fool you. Although it looks like a serious manhunt for the Big Break, Willie Colón’s La Gran Fuga is a pretty, laid-back and chilled out affair. Featuring Héctor Lavoe on vocals, the album which was originally released in 1970 finds itself reissued on Craft Recording.

Willie Colón with microphone
Willie Colón. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Craft Latino.

The legendary salsa duo of Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe left an indelible mark on Latin music. During their teenage years, they worked together with Fania Records, defining one of the most exciting chapters in the genre eventually creating nearly a dozen albums together. Colón, born in 1950, quickly became a standout figure in salsa, sculpting its sound on and off stage as a trombonist, composer, producer, and orchestra leader. Lavoe, who lived from 1946 to 1993, is considered not just one of the greatest vocalists in salsa and Latin music, but also in popular music.

Willie Colón on trombone and Héctor Lavoe on vocals
Willie Colón on trombone and Héctor Lavoe on vocals

This latest version of La Gran Fuga is a AAA lacquer cut from the original master tapes by Kevin Gray at Coherent Audio. The copy that I am reviewing is on “Salt ‘n’ Peppa”, black-and-white splattered vinyl and it comes in a 180g presentation. Don’t forget, this pressing of the album contains an 11 x 23 Willie Colón “wanted” poster which – if I’m being truthful – I really don’t have much need for. However, it is true to original pressings and - to be honest - I sure do love the orange label that displays the information and also touts the “smash“ hit “Ghana’e”, which is not only the lead off track, but also one of my favorites on this album.

Willie Colon La Gran Fuga Album Cover

The theme here is a sort of band on the run assemblage of Fania Records heavyweights: trombonist, Willie Colón and - as previously mentioned - Héctor Lavoe on vocals. However, Milton Cardona appears on Congas, “Professor Joe” Torres on piano and Santi Gonzalez who holds down the bass space; his work is really a stand out on this record. I’m not sure how the bass was recorded for this album, but Santi’s super-injected electric bass comes through loud and clear and Kevin Gray’s new master allows for it to not only blend with the rest of the band, but gives it the weight to carry along the rest of the musicians offerings and float them all right down the post-Boogaloo and salsa river. Of course, there’s also the always groundbreaking and visually enjoyable graphic design of Izzy Sanabria.

The songs don’t rush themselves along either, tempos are pleasantly laid-back and take the opportunity to stretch out and expand accordingly. The rhythmic feel on La Gran Fuga is addictive. In a few spots, there’s an element of an almost fun and loose Grateful Dead jam vibe here as well. 

Willie Colon The Big Break La Gran Fuga on Salt n Pepper Colored Vinyl

The black-and-white “salt ‘n’ pepper” splatter “color” looks great, and the overall pressing is a good one, however, there are some pretty nasty pops and crackles at the very beginning and at the very end of side one. Aside from those unfortunate sounds, which make up approximately 10 seconds of the entire album, the record sounds great: neutral, wide stereo, natural vocals, with excellent imaging. But, those final 10 seconds are a real mood ruiner. Fortunately, side 2 presents just fine. Otherwise, the album is well centered albeit just slightly dished. The tip on cover, heavyweight cardboard jacket jacket and archival audiophile inner sleeve are welcome upgrades to this important release.

If you need a little help getting out of your chair, some inspiration to move around your listening room, this album will do the trick. La Gran Fuga is an exceptional release and listeners who are new to Latin music and salsa will find it endlessly approachable.


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