Azteca ‘Pyramind of the moon’ (BBR) 4/5

Latin-funk outfit Azteca were part of a much wider cultural, political and social that strived for more rights and opportunities for Chicanos (American citizens of Mexican heritage) during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Formed in 1970 by Latin percussionist brothers Pete (father of Shelia E) and ‘Coke’ Escovedo, Azteca brought on board the cream of San Francisco-based musicians that included future Headhunters bassist Paul Jackson, cult keyboardist Flip Nunez, percussionist Victor Pantoja and trumpeter Tom Harrell who would go on to enjoy a tenure with Horace Silver before forming his own Latin-flavoured formations. This was the second of the albums that Azteca recorded for CBS and is by far the stronger and more cohesive overall in outlook. It differs from Santana in one important respect: the rock element is less pronounced with a greater emphasis on the soulful and, in parts, funky side of urban black American music of the time. That said, Latin and jazz elements are still to the fore. Interestingly, with English lead vocals shared including those of Wendy Haas, there was clearly an attempt to reach out beyond Latino populations.

Listening to this music forty years on, one cannot help but be struck by how immediate the pieces are, yet at the time mainstream radio barely played so-called ‘minority interest’ music (though Santana broke the barrier among white audiences) and even Latino radio stations focused rather on more traditional music styles. The relaxing soulful groove of ‘Someday we’ll get by’ sets the scene beautifully with an instantly catchy hook and some fine playing by Harrell. Heavy Afro-Cuban percussion greets the listener on ‘Mexicana, Mexicana’ and during the early 1970s many Latino musicians were keen to explore the musical heritage of Hispanic migrants in general as well as their own ethnicity(ies). A fast-paced ‘New day is on the rise’ features some lovely brass and vocals and in general the music on the album does not sound in the least bit dated. Latin-soul was still in vogue at the time of recording and ‘Red onions’ has Spanish language lyrics and a typically soulful backdrop. With a striking painting cover from Mexican folklore, this is a wonderful example of Latin rhythms fusing with funk, jazz and soul ingredients, all adding up to some exhilarating music. A fine re-issue with excellent sleeve notes and plenty of graphical illustrations which transport you back to the heady days of the 1970s.

Tim Stenhouse

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