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Latin - Released January 1, 1963 | Fania

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2003 | Verve

There are compilations and there are compilations. Verve's Finest Hour series has, generally speaking, been consistent in producing collections with artists' best performances from the label -- with the possible exception of the Ramsey Lewis volume, which sucks. This set by Nuyorican percussion and arranging ace Willie Bobo is arguably the best collection of his work on the market. Virtually everything a fan would want on a single disc is here and, even more crucial, this is flawless as an introduction to Bobo's amazing contribution to Latin, popular, and jazz musics. Obvious cuts like "Grazing in the Grass" and "Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries" are here in their steamy glory, as are his incomparable versions of "Knock on Wood" and "Walk Away Renee." Bobo's "It's Not Unusual" is a complete reinvention of the Mills/Reed classic commonly associated with Tom Jones. What comes across so forcefully on the Bobo collection is that his ideas about music were progressive to the point of being oversimplified by others; Bobo saw all music as pop music and treated it as such on his records. His wish to make corner-bending sides for his friends in Harlem actually translates to the entire American populace very well, so well in their directness and emotional honesty -- as well sweet-grooving simplicity -- that sophisticated statements on race and class are played out in his pop music. For those who don't give a damn about this kind of analysis, it's safe to say that this set -- all 18 tracks of it -- constitutes one hell of a driving, partying, dancing, or goofing record straight from the heart to the street corner. This is amazing stuff. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 4, 1965 | Verve Reissues

One pass through the title cut and you know that Carlos Santana was listening. The easy R&B-Latin jazz shuffle on this Bobo original, with its mix of Spanish and English vocals, is an obvious touchstone of cuts like "Evil Ways" on Santana's first two albums. What a shame, then, that the rest of the record is primarily comprised of covers of pop hits of the day like "It's Not Unusual" (a vocal AND an instrumental version!) and "Our Day Will Come." The timbales player and his band lay down respectable grooves, but "Spanish Grease" is the only original on the album, and by far the most rewarding number. Spanish Grease has been combined with the 1966 LP Uno Dos Tres 1-2-3 on one CD reissue. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Jazz - Released February 13, 1966 | Verve Reissues

As with his previous album Spanish Grease, the toughest and most memorable track is the one Bobo original, "Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries." Its creeping Latin soul groove was, like "Spanish Grease," an obvious inspiration for Carlos Santana. But on most of the rest of the recording, Bobo coasts through interpretations of period hits like "Michelle," "Goin' Out Of My Head," and Jay & The Americans' (!) "Come A Little Bit Closer," with some jazz and pop standards as well. Uno Dos Tres has been combined with the 1965 LP Spanish Grease on one CD reissue. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1968 | Verve

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2008 | Verve Reissues

Recorded and released in 1967, Bobo Motion is one of percussionist Willie Bobo's best-known recordings of the 1960s. The album is best-known for its version of the Sonny Henry nugget "Evil Ways" that Carlos Santana and his band made their own a couple of years later, but there's more to it than that. Since Bobo signed with Verve in 1965, he'd been releasing wily blends of hot Latin tunes, and soul-jazz interpretations of pop tunes of the day. His five previous albums for the label had all been variations on this theme. On the earlier ones, safer pop and easy tunes played with Bobo's trademark hand drum grooves won out over original material. Indeed, 1965's Spanish Grease and 1966's Uno, Dos,Tres 1-2-3 had featured one tune apiece that featured the cooking Afro-Cuban flavored jams he'd become known for, and the rest were either soul-jazz arrangements of Latin standards or "with it" pop tunes of the day (Afro-Cuban versions of the organ trio records that Blue Note was shoveling out by the truckload at the time). Bobo Motion, however, is a different animal. While there are no originals on the Bert Keyes/Sonny Henry-arranged set, the grooves are tighter and more sophisticated, and the drumming is mixed way up above an uncredited smaller combo playing horns, electric bass, and Henry' electric guitar. The tune selection is also weirder and reflects the range of Bobo' eclectic tastes, and turns more firmly toward jazz (unlike Juicy, the 1967 precursor to this set, which was pregnant with workouts of soul hits of the day). There are trad standards like "Tuxedo Junction," Neal Hefti's swinging "Cute," -- which was almost a Count Basie evergreen of the early '60s -- and a smoking blues-out read of Sonny Burke' "Black Coffee." That's not to say there are no pop tunes here, Henry's "Evil Ways" features Bobo's less than hip vocals but the tune itself is so steamy and strange in its minor-key articulations, and the groove is such a monster, it doesn't matter. The same goes for Arthur Sterling's "Ain't That Right," that becomes a whomping boogaloo with the triple-time congas, gourd shaker, and timbales atop a fluid electric guitar groove. The transformation of Joe Tex's "Show Me," into a Latin jazz tune is remarkable to say the least -- even if it keeps its funky soul feel (the horns are the melody line here, and Bobo plays all around them setting up a monster conguero groove). Bobo Motion ends with a brief but burning version of "La Bamba." Its traditional roots are all on display here as Bobo's congas drive the rhythms into overdrive. Forget the quaint version by Trini Lopez, this one gets it. Recommended. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Pop/Rock - Released March 18, 1978 | Legacy Recordings

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Latin - Released September 9, 2016 | Nacional Records

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Jazz - Released October 6, 1977 | CM BLUE NOTE (A92)

Willie Bobo's only LP for Blue Note came at a point well past the label's heyday, when crossover was its primary focus. Hence Tomorrow Is Here has a pronounced '70s R&B/funk feel, with synthesizers, envelope followers, electric pianos, guitars and occasional strings interwoven with Bobo's steady Latin congas, timbales and self-effacing vocals. But there are a few gems to be found here -- one in particular. The leadoff track "Suitcase Full Of Dreams" is a great, haunting, Latin-accented song about a journeyman musician's life on the road that should have become a standard but is now almost completely forgotten. Karma's Reggie Andrews sits in on keyboards to give the record its contemporary sound; the other participants are L.A. sessionmen. Bobo's engaging personality, the injected Latin element, and "Suitcase" are what makes this otherwise dated record come alive. © Richard S. Ginell /TiVo
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World - Released July 29, 2016 | Nacional Records

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1997 | Verve

Whatever the meaning of the word "talkin," this is still a most valuable release because it succinctly sums up Willie Bobo's Verve recordings, most of which have yet to see the light of the laser. By this time, Bobo had followed Mongo Santamaria into the marketplace as an energetic exponent of the Latin boogaloo, even scoring a minor hit with "Spanish Grease." But Bobo went even further than Mongo toward an accommodation with the '60s scene, adding the R&B-oriented electric rhythm guitar of Sonny Henry, dropping the piano, incorporating strings and even an occasional graceful vocal now and then. While there are a few covers of '60s standards here, like "The Look of Love" and "Grazing in the Grass" -- and he had the great sense to seek out and record a hip-shaking version of Eddie Harris' "Sham Time" -- Bobo's biggest contribution on these tracks was in providing the inspiration for the Latin rock boom to come. "Evil Ways" is almost an exact blueprint for Carlos Santana's career-launching hit version; "Spanish Grease" reappeared uncredited six years later as Santana's "No One to Depend On," and Santana also played Bobo's lowdown "Fried Neck Bones and Some Homefries" in the band's early days. With Bobo's galvanic congas and timbales swinging at all times, few CDs by a single artist capture the ambience of late-'60s jazz radio in the evening as well as this one. © Richard S. Ginell /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1998 | Verve

Willie Bobo's music is triangulated between Latin jazz (Mongo Santamaria's division; the percussionist first gained notice in Santamaria's band), what by the mid-'60s had come to be called soul-jazz, and good old-fashioned lounge-act kitsch. None of the three influences overwhelms the others on 1967's Juicy, although from the lubricious title and cover photo on down, there's a certain "swingin' at Hef's pad" vibe to the proceedings that makes this album of particular interest to latter-day hipsters. Most of the song selection consists of soul-jazz covers of popular hits of the day, from a funky take on Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood" to a bossa nova-fied version of Bob Crewe's "Music to Watch Girls By," but the real standouts are the small handful of band originals, particularly the fiery groove of the title track, on which Bobo's timbales get their hardest workout. The 1998 CD reissue includes a full half-dozen extras, mostly less-than-revelatory alternate takes and leftovers, but the restored full-length version of the swell "La Descarga del Bobo" is a nice touch. © Stewart Mason /TiVo