Does this two-CD set live up to the implicitly bold claim of its title? Well, it might not be everyone's choice as the most essential salsa album. But it makes a pretty good run at the title, with 30 songs spread across two discs that contain more than two hours of music. Among them are cuts by artists whom few would argue don't belong at the top of the salsa pile, including Willy Chirino, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Ruben Gonzalez of the Buena Vista Social Club, Machito, and Eddie Palmieri. It's also geographically diverse, the performers not only hailing from Cuba and/or the Hispanic population of New York City, but also from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Colombia. And some chances are taken in the track selection, not only including the expected classic salsa sounds, but also the exotica-mambo of Yma Sumac's "Taki Rari"; the soul-salsa of Cubanismo's "Alemany's Boogaloo"; and boogaloo star Joe Cuba; the rap-influenced salsa of Fulanito's "Chillando Goma"; and Orishas' "537 C.U.B.A."; and the reggae-ska-inflected salsa of Sidestepper's "Linda Mangua." Although much of the material dates from after 1990, there's some diversity in this department too; some of it stretching back at least as far as the 1950s. It's necessary to say "at least as far" because the most significant flaw of the package is the absence of dates for some of the tracks. Nevertheless, it's a lively and varied collection, and would serve as a good overview or introductory salsa anthology.