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Elements of Life

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Louie Vega, the DJ masterworker and Masters at Work supremo, didn’t record a solo full-length until nearly 20 years after his debut as a producer. (Granted, Nuyorican Soul was close to a solo album, and he also produced all of When the Night Is Over, his 1991 collaboration with Marc Anthony.) Accordingly, Vega packed 2004’s Elements of Life with varying sounds, including collaborations with friends(Blaze, Ursula Rucker), a tribute to his uncle (salsero legend Hector Lavoe), and a host of fusion experiments — Spanish Harlem by way of Puerto Rico by way of Africa — involving musicians he’s met during his long studio career. As on Nuyorican Soul, Vega begins by illustrating what a talented modern producer can do to brighten an underappreciated standard without wrecking the effect of the original; instead of Rotary Connection’s “I Am the Black Gold of the Sun” Vega reworks the Chakachas’ “Jungle Fever,” the original ranking as a full-blush sexual escapade on the same order as Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” or Musique’s “(Push, Push) In the Bush.” His two tracks with Blaze might disappoint listeners expecting a miracle from this meeting of two garage legends; here, as on the majority of the record, the production has the same high sheen of Nuyorican Soul, but lacks the dynamic performances and concentrated compositions. Vocalists Raúl Midón and Anané contribute very little of interest, and Vega’s touch is too smooth for the live band he invites into the studio. ~ John Bush, All Music Guide

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