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Tito Puente does Mambo (The Early Years)

Tito Puente

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Album Review

Simply put, this collection of early Tito Puente sides recorded in the early 1950s is a collection of previously unreleased tunes from radio broadcasts for WABC in New York City on the Birdland Show. It includes early versions of his classics such as “Ran Kan Kan,” “Mambo Birdland,” “Mambo Diablo,” “Mambo Inn,” “Mambo City,” and “Barbaratiri.” In addition, there is a wildly exotic reading of the standard “Autumn Leaves” that Les Baxter would have killed to record, but as a Latin read on American jazz, it's irresistible for its atmosphere and expansive use of harmonics. It is also notable that these sides (nearly all first recorded for Tico), despite their somewhat dodgy fidelity, do swing wildly, thanks in part to the great conguero Mongo Santamaria helping to drive Puente’s signature rhythmic approach that made Afro-Cuban music so accessible to literally millions of listeners after his jump to Columbia. The only annoyance on this set is the continuous presence of the radio announcer, who introduces every cut but two, which Puente introduces. Certainly this is for the collector, but it’s also for the more casual fan who wants to hear the very rapid development of Puente’s music in the early '50s and its adaptation to American jazz as it met Afro-Cuban dance music.


Born: 20 April 1923 in New York, NY

Genre: Salsa and Tropical

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

By virtue of his warm, flamboyant stage manner, longevity, constant touring, and appearances in the mass media, Tito Puente is probably the most beloved symbol of Latin jazz. But more than that, Puente managed to keep his music remarkably fresh over the decades; as a timbales virtuoso, he combined mastery over every rhythmic nuance with old-fashioned showmanship — watching his eyes bug out when taking a dynamic solo was one of the great treats for Latin jazz fans. A trained musician, he was...
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