The Big Break is a masterpiece of Latin music, the kind of formidable artistic statement that established the Fania label as a cultural icon– going beyond the parameters of a company specializing in crowd pleasing dance music. Needless to say, this is still a great party album, filled with dance friendly classics such as “Barrunto” and “Abuelita”. At the same time, it crystallizes the Colón/Lavoé aesthetic that the duo had been developing on previous albums (“The Big Break” was Colón’s sixth release on the Fania label.)
This session is a roller coaster of intensity– a symphony of contrasting flavors, colors and feelings. Perhaps the one moment that best encapsulates the transcendental qualities of this collection is the bridge of “Panameña”– the moment when the tune stops on its tracks, Lavoé introduces la salsa de Puerto Rico, el aguinaldo (Puerto Rico’s own salsa, the aguinaldo) and all hell breaks loose thanks to Colón’s roaring trombone and the spidery piano lines courtesy of the maestro Profesor Joe Torres. The resulting effect is nothing less of apocalyptic.
Of the many brilliant LP covers that graphic designer Izzy Sanabria designed for Fania , The Big Break may be the most notorious one. The art capitalized on Colón’s ‘Malo’ image (he was initially called El Malo because the older musicians thought he was a poor trombone player, not a bad kid– Willie then decided to use the gangster archetype as a gimmick.) This time, Sanabria flew with the idea and devised a cover that replicated a Wanted by the FBI poster. Using the project’s limited budget to his advantage, the designer included a cheap photo of Colón and random fingerprints
to create a realistic looking poster. After its release, the company was contacted by the real FBI, which requested that the ‘Wanted by FBI’ text be removed from the cover.
Listening to these eight, timeless tracks decades after their original release, the music compels you to ask: how could two young men in their ’20 have so much to say? How did they manage to record an album of such depth and beauty? It may be advisable to stop pondering such heady issues and enjoy the music instead.