Phirpo y sus Caribes: Comencemos (Let’s Start)
Y Esa Pava Que?
Oye Coma Va
From Parrilla Caliente (Phillips, 1973)

I recently blew past my standard “ceiling” for record purchases in order to lay my hands on “the Phirpo album” (thanks Beto and Adam!). If you recall my previous discussion of record “Holy Grails,” there are certain criteria a Grail has to meet, including, but not limited to: obscurity, difficulty of purchase (based on price and/or rarity), quality. And on all those levels, the Phirpo LP completely meets or exceeds.

It is, in short, the best Latin funk LP I know of. Completely blows the doors off of whatever else I could put up against it, especially in being more than 1 or 2 tracker but practically going end to end with almost half the album being caliente indeed, and all but one or two of the rest of the songs acceptably “good”. The only real let down was “Micaela” (which is not a cover of the Pete Rodriguez boogaloo-era classic).

I don’t know much about this group at all except that they’re from Venezuela (though their album came out on Philips in both Colombia and Venezuela, but with different covers). I suspect Porfi Jiminez was a member since he wrote two songs for the album and I don’t believe either is a cover from his own solo output. Whoever was in this outfit frickin’ smoked though. Ridiculously so. Just listen to that clavinet that opens “Y Esa Pava Que?” that then slides into the drums, the horns, the rhythm guitar, etc. Holy moly. All this plus covers of a Fela Kuti and Tito Rodriguez? Are you kidding me? This was worth every (extravagant) penny.

Anyways, this got me thinking of other “best of” Grails in my private mind garden.

Some are super easy, as in the Grail-iest of Grails in Latin soul: Har-You Percussion Group’s self-titled album. I still don’t own this and I suspect, one day, I’ll just throw down for it (but not anytime soon given its “market price”).

Strangely, I don’t really have any hip-hop Grails, maybe because I’ve more or less acquired any rap release I really really wanted. That’s not to say there’s not some great random rap stuff out there I wouldn’t love to get my hands on (“Stitch By Stitch” being high up there) but these aren’t Grails to me; I don’t daydream about copping ’em.

I don’t lack for soul Grails but there’s also nothing that quite stands out as clearly as, say, Har-You or Phirpo. It may be that the playing field is slightly more level in soul, with many different titles competing across a wider spectrum of “soul” styles. If there’s any one album I’d highlight, it’d be East of Underground. If you put both this and Har-You in front of me and offered them, I’d be torn but ultimately, I’d have to admit that the EoU is the greater Grail given its legitimate obscurity. After all, copies of the Har-You LP do turn up but finding an EoU for sale is some Haley’s Comet-type phenom.

Anyways, it always feel good to scratch a title off your “most wanted list” (alas, it’s a rather long list).