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El Rey

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Album Review

This session, originally released in 1984 in a garish, psychedelic cover that's too bizarre for words, marks Tito Puente's temporary return to the small-combo sound that originally made his name, after several years at the head of various big bands. (Of course, in Puente terms, ten pieces qualify as a small combo.) The set list is a nice mix of Puente originals and jazz standards, with a powerhouse, frenzied version of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and a slinky, swaggering reworking of Puente's signature song, "Oye Como Va" (with some amazing, full-bodied flute work courtesy of Mario Rivera) among the highlights. The salsa and jazz combo is at their most explicit in an extended, rump-shaking medley of the standard "Stella by Starlight" and Puente's own "Delirio." Unfortunately, only that tune and a hypnotic, conga-driven take on the oldie "Equinox" break the five-minute barrier, which means that the players don't have the room to stretch out that the best salsa albums provide. That quibble aside, El Rey proves only that several decades into his career, Tito Puente still deserves his title.


Born: 20 April 1923 in New York, NY

Genre: Latino

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 also...
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