Inspired by his South Bronx Afro-Cuban roots, percussionist Ray Mantilla rose to prominence in the early '70s, performing with a host of prestigious bands, and eventually led his own band in the '80s, the Ray Mantilla Space Station. All this time Mantilla remained active and continued his prolific streak into the 2000s.
Born in 1934, in the South Bronx, Mantilla's musical career began early. By the time he was in his 20s, he was already performing in New York, blending his Afro-Cuban roots with the contemporary jazz idiom of the time. The culmination of Mantilla's upward climb came when he began touring the States, Europe, and Japan with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. He remained with Blakey for several years in the '70s, yet he still managed to work with countless others, including Charles Mingus and Max Roach.
His solo debut, Mantilla, surfaced in 1978 on the Inner City label; however, it wasn't until his next album, Hands of Fire (1984, Red), that his solo recording career gained momentum. His group, the Ray Mantilla Space Station, returned two years later with another album for Red, Synergy (1986), and then again shortly after with Dark Powers.
In 1991, he returned with a new band, the Jazz Tribe, and then didn't return with another album until 2000, The Next Step. He then reformed the Mantilla Space Station for 2004's Man-Ti-Ya. Two years later, he paired with pianist Edy Martinez, vibraphonist Mike Freeman, bassist Cucho Martínez, drummer Bill Elder and percussionist Steve Berrios on Good Vibrations. A similar group with Martínez and Elder was featured on 2013's The Connection. In 2017, Mantilla delivered the Joe Fields-produced High Voltage on Savant Records. ~ Jason Birchmeier