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Album Review

Originally released in 1975, this set by master Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria is an exercise in smooth jazz and jazz-funk. Besides its amazing cover by Ron Levine, this disc holds a special place in Santamaria's catalog. This was the first time he was able to reach his goal of making a large band — in this case, 14 musicians — sound like an intimate combo. "Creepin" kicks it off; it's an easy-groove number reminiscent of the Crusaders' slippery moves at the time — think Scratch. "Funk Up," "Mambomongo," and "Funk Down" juxtapose Afro-beat, War-style R&B and funk, steamy salsa horns, and just a touch of Jimi Hendrix for a smokin' raw slice of heated riffing on a theme and two variations. Drummer Bernard Purdie kept the entire band anchored, while saxophonist Justo Almario cuts a mean swathe with his solo in the middle of the track, in the heart of a horn stomp that is unequaled on any of Santamaria's other records. There's even a version LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" that has a vocal chorus to back up Almario's razored saxophone lines; with its Afro-funk backbeat and driving horn section, this one was made for the dancefloor. There is some schlock here, though, in the Joe Gallardo-arranged "Song for You" (not the Bernie Taupin/Elton John tune), a syrupy waste of time and energy with the wimpiest, most anemic flute solo ever recorded (this makes Hubert Laws' most sentimental moments seem like the theme from Rocky). At seven-and-a-half minutes, this would have been better served on the cutting-room floor. Despite a few dumpy cuts, this one is necessary for fans of classic '70s soul-jazz and jazz-funk; it's also of peculiar but pointed interest to those interested in the evolution of Afro-Cuban beat science.


Born: 07 April 1922 in Havana, Cuba

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

A Mongo Santamaria concert is a mesmerizing spectacle for both eyes and ears, and even in his seventies, this seemingly ageless Cuban percussionist/bandleader could energize packed behemoth arenas such as the Hollywood Bowl. A master conguero, Santamaria at his best creates an incantatory spell rooted in Cuban religious rituals, quietly seating himself before his congas and soloing with total command over the rhythmic spaces between the beats while his band pumps out an endless vamp (a potent example...
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Afro-Indio, Mongo Santamaria
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