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Watermelon Man

Mongo Santamaria

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Album Review

Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" was a gigantic hit for Mongo Santamaria in 1963, doing for him in the '60s what Pérez Prado's big mambo hits did for him in the '50s. Naturally, then, the follow-up LP to the single is devoted to 12 airplay-length tracks loaded with bright, swinging Latin cha-chas and mambo rhythms mixed with blues, soul, and jazz, presumably suitable for twisting the night away. Rodgers Grant's piano supplies a good deal of the harmonic foundation of jazz, with the help of occasional jazz solos from saxophonists Pat Patrick and Bobby Capers, while Marty Sheller's commanding party-time trumpet rides above the thundering congas of Mongo. In this setting, even the venerable "The Peanut Vendor" is brought right up to date. The 1998 CD reissue on Milestone adds six previously unissued tracks from a live San Francisco date in 1962. As all but one are between six and eight minutes long, they allow the band to stretch out more than they did in the studio. In fact, the personnel is almost totally different than it is on the Watermelon Man album. Notable components of the live lineup are Willie Bobo on timbales and Felix "Pupi" Legaretta on violin; only bassist Victor Venegas is on both the studio and live material. ~ Richard S. Ginell, Rovi


Born: April 7, 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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Watermelon Man, Mongo Santamaria
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