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The Complete 78s, Vol. 1 (1949-55)

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Album Review

In what is perhaps the most admirable reissue campaign in Latin music history, Emusica head Giora Breil commissioned Joe Conzo to compile and annotate a four-volume collection — later reissued as a two-part series of box sets, each set having four discs — from the dawn of Tito Puente's leadership of a band, a series of 156 songs recorded from 1949 to 1955 and released on the Tico label as 78 rpm records. Although Puente was recording for RCA around the same time (those sides appear on The Complete RCA Recordings, Vol. 1), these Tico songs present a far different side of the Latin maestro, and there are few parallels between the material. Where Puente was recording plentiful swing crossovers for RCA ("Tuxedo Junction" and "Take the 'A' Train" in addition to his early masterpiece "Ran Kan Kan"), his material for Tico found him keeping mostly to what his core audience in Spanish Harlem wanted to hear: plentiful hard mambos with the occasional bolero or ballad and, overall, few direct concessions to mainstream music. This was the equivalent of Duke Ellington on OKeh or Charlie Parker on Dial — recordings for the hardcore faithful that showed a band as it existed instead of as it wanted to be sold. However, despite assumptions either way, that doesn't necessarily make this a better or worse set than the fruits of the RCA years, and indeed, for a crossover audience whose numbers usually overwhelm the core base, Puente's Tico recordings will be less familiar and even less dynamic. But the level of musicianship was high, with future heroes Mario Bauzá, Mongo Santamaría, Charlie Palmieri, and Willie Bobo heard here. The Complete 78s, Vols. 1-2: 1949-1955 is a treasure trove for Latin fans.


Born: April 20, 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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