Welcome to the musical feast of NUYORICAN SOUL served up by the extraordinary producer/DJ duo "LITTLE" LOUIE VEGA and KENNY "DOPE" GONZALEZ a.k.a. MASTERS AT WORK (MAW)
"Little" Louie Vega who was born into a musical family (late Salsa great, Hector Lavoe was his uncle), got his start as a neighborhood DJ during the late 70's and early 80's. This brief era in American music saw some of the greatest variety in styles made increasingly accessible to more diverse groups of people. Vega immersed himself in the sounds of classic Disco, Salsa, New Wave Rock, Dance-Funk and a host of unnamable hybrids. His flexibility and understanding of so many seemingly unrelated forms of music fed his notorious talent for blending sounds and flavors in the freshest and most innovative mixes in House music. [You can catch him spinning every Wednesday at Sound Factory Bar (NYC) and every Saturday at Vinyl (NYC).]
Meanwhile, Gonzalez, the younger of the two, was discovering the splendors of Hip Hop. The newly emerging sounds of early 80's Hip Hop were finding larger and larger audiences. The culture that formed was led by the young dedicated aficionados who over time, developed reputations and the notoriety of young Turks. Before Gonzalez had finished high school, he was selling his own mixtapes and had gained a reputation for being a living encyclopedia of Rap and Reggae beats; from beat-junkie to Beat Master.
The two met in 1991 (through mutual friend Todd Terry). They recognized in each other the similar drive to make creative, innovative new sounds in dance music on their own terms. They decided to form a team and called it Masters at Work (MAW). Their differing skills complemented each other and the partnership was balanced by the strength of their differences. "House aficionados were leery of a production team schooled in such contrasting genres. But MAW strategically proved themselves by flipping the script, with a shared goal of educating the musical masses by fusing sounds from all kinds of music to create a different feeling each time out." - PAPER, Feb. '97
Soon the MAW name became synonymous with innovative production and remixing skills. Along with their own projects, including "I Can't Get No Sleep", "Love and Happiness" (both featuring India), "The Bounce", "Get Up", "I Get Lifted", the smash single "The Bomb" (recorded under their alias The Bucketheads), Masters at Work has collaborated with some of dance music's royalty: Madonna, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer and the Braxtons.
Enter Tito Puente
The duo were approached to lend their special skills to the Mambo Kings soundtrack. Joining forces with Latin Jazz legend Tito Puente, Gonzalez and Vega found themselves on the brink of a revelation. The idea of working with live musicians, and being able to explore, in depth, the Latin music of their childhoods invigorated the two DJ's. Those sessions with Puente eventually led to the birth of Nuyorican Soul.
In the beginning, Vega and Gonzalez had planned to approach only a few guest artists. The first musicians they enlisted were Philly Sound arranger Vince Montana, Jazz-Funk legend Roy Ayers and Tito, all band leaders, all writer/composers and all expert vibes players. By centering on these first three artists, Vega and Gonzalez were already mapping areas of emphasis, with each guest star signifying a major musical movement.
Puente symbolizes the 70's Salsa explosion that was spearheaded by the Tico, Alegre and Fania labels.
Roy Ayers symbolized a rich stream of politicized Jazz-Funk bounded on one end by Weather Report and on the other by Earth, Wind and Fire.
Montana's contributions to the Salsoul label, and his association with the kind of big orchestral Funk arrangements the Gamble and Huff (among others) marketed globally as "The Philly Sound" made him a symbol of all that was innovative, smart and serious about American Disco.
Inspired by the classic Soul epics of the seventies, albums like Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life" and Quincy Jones' "Sounds and Stuff Like That", Vega and Gonzalez hold the music of the 70's a touchstone. Both Latin and Black musicians created work of unprecedented sophistication during this period, often working together on tracks which combined Jazz, Rock, Funk and Afro-Latin elements.. Vega and Gonzalez have reached back to this period, not with nostalgia, but with sense of sharing their modern sensibilities with the traditions of the past.