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Latin Jazz - Released June 12, 2015 | Columbia - Legacy

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Although Mongo Santamaria's move to Columbia later signified his transition to crossover fare, his label debut, El Bravo!, makes no concessions or overtures to the pop charts. Armed with a batch of original compositions spanning from boleros to mortunos and backed by a crack session band including trumpeter Marty Sheller and flutist Hubert Laws, Santamaria delivers one of the finest traditional Latin jazz records of the mid-'60s. The virtues of the set are many: Santamaria's conga rhythms are fiery yet tasteful, Sheller's luminous arrangements boast an authentic Cuban flavor, and all of the musicians receive ample opportunity to shine, in particular Laws (whose charanga-inspired flute galvanizes the superb "Monica"). ~ Jason Ankeny
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World - Released April 10, 1992 | Columbia - Legacy

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World - Released February 27, 1967 | Columbia - Legacy

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Mongomania maintains a solid, upbeat jazz groove, with several interesting departures from his usual approach (such as the percussion on the album's two bossa novas). Whereas his previous Columbia albums may have had only one or two great tracks amid gratuitous covers of pop tunes, this one is at least half good. Although the band finally seems to be shaking the yoke of needing a hit single to follow "Watermelon Man," "I Wanna Know" (not to be confused with Francisco Aguabella's later masterpiece) may fit the bill nicely. Songs such as "Funny Man" are solidly in Mongo's Columbia vein. This Mongo material may not be worthy of mania, but it does provide a solid foundation for live performances, and is always great for blasting out the windows on a sunny day. ~ Tony Wilds
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1998 | Fantasy Records

Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" was a gigantic hit for Mongo Santamaria in 1962, 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 an occasional jazz solo from saxes Pat Patrick and Bobby Capers, while Marty Sheller's commanding party-time trumpet rides above Santamaria's thundering congas. In this setting, even the venerable "The Peanut Vendor" is brought right up to date. ~ Richard S. Ginell
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1989 | Fantasy Records

A CD reissue of a mid-'70s repackaging of Mongo Santamaria's first two Fantasy albums, 1958's Yambu and 1959's Mongo, Afro-Roots is superb Latin jazz. Although these were Santamaria's first albums as a leader, the conga player had already worked with Pérez Prado, Tito Puente, and Cal Tjader, giving him absolutely impeccable Latin jazz credentials to go along with his obviously amazing chops. Considering that these albums were recorded for a general jazz audience and the tight, concise arrangements don't allow Santamaria room to stretch out as he did in concert (most of the songs are in the two- to three-minute range), Afro-Roots is still an impressively genuine album; although the '50s were the age of Martin Denny-style exotica kitsch, most of these tracks are extremely traditional Cuban music. Some, like "Bata" and "Timbales y Bongo," are simply hypnotic solos on the titular instruments, while others are traditional Afro-Cuban folk songs and chants. The delightful original "Afro Blue," which quickly became a Latin jazz standard, almost sounds out of place in this setting. ~ Stewart Mason
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Jazz - Released May 29, 2015 | Columbia - Legacy

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Pop - Released March 14, 2016 | Rarity Music

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One good hit deserves a remake, so Columbia had Mongo Santamaria redo his breakthrough record "Watermelon Man" on his second LP for the label. Indeed, it is this brighter, better-recorded version that we generally hear on the radio nowadays instead of the Battle original. Even better, though, are "Fatback" and the wildly swinging workout on "La Bamba" that kicks off the album, to which you can imagine the foxy blonde model on the cover dancing the boogaloo. Marty Sheller's charging arrangements and trumpet are in the driver's seat of this sports car with the Mongo engine, and Hubert Laws has a ball in his flute and tenor sax solos. Few records embodied the go-go spirit of the '60s as well as this Latin jazz album. ~ Richard S. Ginell
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Jazz - Released November 13, 1967 | Columbia - Legacy

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Mongo bores at the Village Gate until "Afro Blue." His ten-minute Afro-Cuban smoker recovers all the melodic impact, engaging solos, and general feel that have been missing from his work for years. The early Chants album on Tico never sounded this good. Still, the song might have been slowed and stretched a bit further. Side two opens with the album's only uptempo number, but more interesting are the lazier "Springtime" and "Elephant Pants," a laid-back cousin of "Baby Elephant Walk" complete with trumpeted elephant sounds. Live is probably how most of the earlier Columbia material ought to have been recorded. Explodes at the Village Gate has the intensity and sound, but most of the tunes are not especially strong. ~ Tony Wilds
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1993 | Fantasy Records

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Dance - Released September 3, 2002 | Rhino Atlantic

Mongo's graduation from Columbia to Atlantic, and from Top 40 covers to funkier soul-jazz, could not have been more welcome. At least half the credit for his new sound goes to Neal Creque, who wrote six of the ten tracks here. Creque, one of the most interesting composers of the late '60s and early '70s, has a sound that recalls Brasilians Deodato and Donato, Herbie Hancock, and the greats of New Orleans piano. The rest of the group (in the studio, at least) also is new for Mongo, although Marty Sheller returns as conductor. Featuring heavy soul-jazz with crack Latin percussion, Mongo '70 is consistently dramatic and evocative, so much so that it could've easily been the score for a movie. Nothing rates as filler, and the end is particularly strong. The funky "Mo' Do'" is followed by "Grass Roots," which has everything: guitar, vibraslap, mournful horns; "Dedicated to Love" is nearly an update on "Peter Gunn." Jon Hart's bass may be mixed a little high, but heavy funk is the message here. That and the fact that Neal Creque has arrived. ~ Tony Wilds
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1995 | Fantasy Records

Mongo returns -- to the Fantasy label group, not the scene, from which he had never been missing in action. Yet in another sense, it is a return to the basic Mongo Santamaria Afro-Cuban-rooted sound and concept -- with a few contemporary elements -- that the ageless leader had been employing ever since he stopped trying to chase after hits. Marty Sheller continues to turn out the charts; in addition to three of his own tunes, he gratefully revives two unusual overlooked '70s gems, Stevie Wonder's "You've Got It Bad, Girl" and Marvin Gaye's "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You" in his old boogaloo manner. The then-current edition of Mongo's large ensemble sounds sharp, at home with the Latin beat, up-to-date electronic instruments and occasional skipping bassline, and Mongo thunders away with his usual polyrhythmic vigor. All we miss is the extra snap and ebullient fire that Mongo's band had when it was right in tune with popular culture, but that's not a deterrent toward having a good time with this disc. ~ Richard S. Ginell
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Dance - Released August 7, 2006 | Rhino Atlantic

While it fits in with the glut of Top 40 boogaloo efforts that record companies pressured jazz artists to record in the late '60s and early '70s, Mongo Santamaria's Feelin' Alright does offer a more than decent program of covers ranging from Motown to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." Santamaria and band spike the even-keeled, groove-heavy parade of horns, Latin percussion, and rolling basslines with tasty trumpet and saxophone solos and manage to recast most of these rock and soul hits as engaging and infectious Latin-a-go-go jams. Like Willie Bobo, Santamaria does a fine job of straddling the fence between soulful interpretation and limp mood music. And though attempts at reforming rock material like Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" fall a bit short, jazz-friendly tracks like "On Broadway" come out sounding worthy of Santamaria's talent. The band's lively rendition of the title track and sophisticated takes on the Sam & Dave hit "Hold On, I'm Coming" and Jimmy Webb's perennial "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" further maintain the high standard. Although a fun record to listen to, Feelin' Alright should be passed over by newcomers for more viable first-disc choices like Fantasy's Mongo's Greatest Hits and Rhino's Skin to Skin anthology. ~ Stephen Cook
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Miscellaneous - Released February 2, 2018 | MASTER(17)MUSIC

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Jazz - Released May 29, 2015 | Columbia - Legacy

Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" was a gigantic hit for Mongo Santamaria in 1962, 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 an occasional jazz solo from saxes Pat Patrick and Bobby Capers, while Marty Sheller's commanding party-time trumpet rides above Santamaria's thundering congas. In this setting, even the venerable "The Peanut Vendor" is brought right up to date. ~ Richard S. Ginell
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Dance - Released February 8, 2005 | Rhino Atlantic

Mongo has probably his best group here, which certainly would be his "way." Armando Peraza, Cachao, Neal Creque, Eric Gale, Stanley Turrentine, and Pretty Purdie are just a few of the formidable talents. "The Letter" is the only oldie/Top 40 cover, and for once, the Mongo treatment really makes the tune into something else indeed. Eddie Harris' "Listen Here" is an out-and-out soul-jazz monster, while "Hippo Walk" is further evidence that Neal Creque is what the Santamaria-Sheller team has needed all along. Mongo's Way maintains an evenness despite ranging from mellow, vibes-led Latin jazz to upbeat, funky soul-jazz to percussion-heavy rock. ~ Tony Wilds
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1976 | Milestone

This single CD has all of the contents of the two Mongo Santamaria Riverside albums originally titled Mongo Explodes and Go, Mongo! The music was last available as a two-LP set also titled Skins. The 1964 session, oddly programmed first, finds Santamaria on conga and bongos at the head of a ten-piece band also including trumpeter Marty Sheller, then-unknown flutist Hubert Laws (also featured on piccolo and tenor), Bobby Capers on alto and baritone, and a seven-piece rhythm section with five percussionists. Cornetist Nat Adderley guests on three of the ten numbers, which are all group originals, including four songs from Sheller. The early dates (Mongo's first as the leader of a fairly jazz-oriented Latin group) have Santamaria leading a completely different band, a nonet with just three percussionists. Most notable among the personnel are the young Chick Corea on piano and Pat Patrick, on leave from Sun Ra's band, as one of the two saxophonists. This time around, Mongo contributed four of the nine fairly obscure numbers. Although some of the songs on the 1964 date were put together in hopes of duplicating the commercial success of "Watermelon Man" (none succeeded), the music still sounds fairly fresh and lively. An excellent introduction to Mongo Santamaria's viable brand of Afro-Cuban jazz. ~ Scott Yanow
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1995 | Fantasy Records

This is a excellent single-disc sampler of what Mongo Santamaria was like before "Watermelon Man" catapulted him into the charts. Some of the Fantasy tracks sound like the musicians were just off the boat from Havana, and are a bit primitive in contrast to the brassy Santamaria of the mid- to late '60s, but they have overwhelming charm. The revered "Afro-Blue" can be heard in its original, spooky, stripped-down form, and it would be hard for anyone to resist the voodoo spell that the ten-plus minute "Mazacote" conveys. Besides Santamaria himself, included among the world-class percussionists on this record are Willie Bobo and Armando Peraza. The CD version adds four tracks, including "Watermelon Man" from the Battle/Riverside period and an alternate take of "Para Ti." ~ Richard S. Ginell
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Dance - Released February 27, 1998 | Rhino Atlantic

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World - Released June 22, 2000 | Columbia - Legacy

R&B - Released October 6, 1969 | Columbia - Legacy

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The Mongo Santamaria/Columbia formula of Top 40 tunes retrofitted with an Afro-Cuban boogaloo beat gets another hyperactive workout here. The title tune, "Spinning Wheel," "Proud Mary," "My Cherie Amour" and "Get Back" are among the choices here, with Sonny Fortune occasionally scorching the earth on alto sax (and probably on flute), Joe Farrell turning up on tenor, and ever-versatile Bernard "Pretty" Purdie stoking the fires alongside Mongo. Yet the band is finally beginning to show some audible weariness with the whole operation -- for which one cannot blame them. ~ Richard S. Ginell