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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 /TiVo
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World - Released April 10, 1992 | Columbia - Legacy

Some would say the title of this package is deceptive, as it only covers his mid- to late-'60s period with Columbia (and should not be confused with other Mongo Santamaria releases with similar titles covering different eras, such as Fantasy's). Furthermore, some would also say that it's not representative of Santamaria's best work, or that representative of Santamaria at all, since it's largely devoted to some of his most pop-oriented material. That's the purist stance, anyway. Because actually, this disc is for the most part a gas, even if it is not among the more Latin-esque or jazzy of his recordings. His Columbia stint saw the influence of soul become ascendant upon his studio output and indeed, many of the tunes here are soul covers: "Cloud Nine," "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," "Twenty-Five Miles," "Cold Sweat," and "Green Onions." Being commercial, however -- and this was an attempt by Santamaria and Columbia to be commercial, as both Santamaria and producer David Rubinson state in the liner notes -- does not always lead to bad music. Sometimes, indeed, it leads to pretty good music. And the 1964-1969 cuts on this disc are cool, often smokin' boogaloo, that mixture of Latin, jazz, soul, and pop that briefly became in vogue during the '60s. If Mongo and his large bands were disenchanted with this direction, it certainly doesn't show at all in the performances, which have an irresistible verve, whether on tailored-for-Santamaria compositions like "Fatback" or shopworn material like "La Bamba." © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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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 /TiVo
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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 /TiVo
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Jazz - Released May 29, 2015 | Columbia - Legacy

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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 /TiVo
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Jazz - Released May 27, 2016 | Columbia - Legacy

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Hey! Let's Party represents one of percussionist Mongo Santamaria's first and most engaging plunges into the world of contemporary pop, galvanizing well-known chart smashes with the energy and abandon of Latin soul. It's a simple formula that proved remarkably successful and flexible across a series of likeminded LPs -- Santamaria approaches texts like "Walk on By" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)" with deep respect and understanding, creating soulful, righteous rhythms that snake in and out of the original melodies with brilliant precision. Even battered warhorses like Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" breathe new life, proving Santamaria's uncanny capacity for making the familiar funky. © Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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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 /TiVo
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Latin - Released January 1, 1976 | Fania

The June 2003 reissue of late Mongo Santamaria's 1976 album Sofrito -- he died in February 2003 -- by Vaya brings many questions to the fore. While the record was greeted by somewhat lukewarm press reviews at the time of its release given its preoccupation with groove-jazz-oriented sonics and production, and was considered a minor work by many. But on compact disc and with the new look at the era's recordings by virtually everyone, from Willie Bobo, Willie Colón, Ray Barretto, and other jazzmen of the time, such as Deodato, Lonnie Liston Smith, and Herbie Hancock, Sofrito is, perhaps, a timeless Latin soul-jazz classic. Recorded in New York by Jon Fausty with a killer band of salsa and jazz musicians, Sofrito is a wonderfully mixed bag of laid-back Latin-flavored jazz tunes such as "Cruzan," drenched in a beautiful baritone solo by Roger Rosenberg, with Armen Donelian's electric piano and beautiful timbales and traps by Steve Berrios, and Santamaria's congas. On "O Mi Shango," the lone traditional song on the set, killer bata drums by Angel "Cachete" Maldonado work well in juxtaposition to the modern synthesizer and funk backdrops. The gorgeous son rhythms on "Spring Song," lend it a timeless, Nuyorican Soul-feel as an Afro-Cuban orchestra is playing it on a Harlem street corner. Simmering, shimmering, soul-jazz harmony with gorgeous Latin percussion informed by age-old Cuban melodies and funky basslines make this one of the most beautiful tunes on the set. In all, there are no weak tracks on Sofrito, and it offers a near-perfect view of the seamless kind of transcultural music-making that was happening at the time that so informed virtually everything in both genres now. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Latin - Released January 1, 1957 | Fania

Whatever possessed Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria to release this recording of traditional chants and drumming modes from the various traditions of the Afro-Cuban experience reinvented him not only for his own people, but for the legions of Americanskis who only knew him as the cat who did the Latinized soul-jazz version of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man," which became a pop hit. Here, Santamaria enlisted the help of Carlos "Potato" Valdes, Antar Daly, Silvestre Mendez, and Julio Collazo in a burning collection of rhythms and call-and-response chants from the various traditions that make up the island's roots music -- Yoruba, Lucumi, Dahomeyanos, Carabalies, and the Congos -- all of whom originated in the river region of Niger before they crossed the Atlantic. In each case, the listener is treated to a fantastically complex recorded example of rhythms and then chanted information that accompanies them: harvest songs, traveling songs, songs of sorrow, songs of mating, and more. Occasionally, as on "Margarito," a wooden flute accompanies the song, and in the case of "Congo Mania," a trumpet does the same thing. There are numerous drums employed to both solo and "choir" effect like the batas, bembe, congos, quinto, and more. This is deep Afro-Cuban music from the heart of the Niger region, crossing the ocean with blood, sweat, and tears and finally taking root in the land of sugar cane. There are stories and legends in these tracks -- they are as authentic and raw as it gets. World music fans owe it to themselves to pick this up. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1996 | Candid Productions

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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 /TiVo
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Latin - Released January 1, 1973 | Fania

Fuego (released on the Vaya label) continues the soul-jazz of Mongo's Atlantic period but ranges a bit further, into funk and rock. "Fingers" is a bass-led original with psychedelic guitar recorded to sound as if it's being played several blocks away (much like an early Jimi Hendrix session). "Crazy Lady" is the other seriously funky track, although neither is essential. The original "Besame" is a fine, laid-back song in classic Mongo style; there are many other fine -- if not exactly thrilling -- moments, including "Malcolm X." "Last Tango in Paris" is billed as the hit single, and it does win hipness points over many other, more treacly versions; but the tune is so brief that it seems to be just a substitute for something catchier -- something on another album. Fuego flickers, but never quite ignites. © Tony Wilds /TiVo
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Latin - Released March 16, 2019 | jjjedizionimusicali

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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 /TiVo
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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 /TiVo
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World - Released January 1, 1975 | Fania

Originally released in 1975, this set by master Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria is an exercise in smooth jazz and jazz-funk. Besides its amazing cover by Ron Levine, this disc holds a special place in Santamaria's catalog. This was the first time he was able to reach his goal of making a large band -- in this case, 14 musicians -- sound like an intimate combo. "Creepin" kicks it off; it's an easy-groove number reminiscent of the Crusaders' slippery moves at the time -- think Scratch. "Funk Up," "Mambomongo," and "Funk Down" juxtapose Afro-beat, War-style R&B and funk, steamy salsa horns, and just a touch of Jimi Hendrix for a smokin' raw slice of heated riffing on a theme and two variations. Drummer Bernard Purdie kept the entire band anchored, while saxophonist Justo Almario cuts a mean swathe with his solo in the middle of the track, in the heart of a horn stomp that is unequaled on any of Santamaria's other records. There's even a version LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" that has a vocal chorus to back up Almario's razored saxophone lines; with its Afro-funk backbeat and driving horn section, this one was made for the dancefloor. There is some schlock here, though, in the Joe Gallardo-arranged "Song for You" (not the Bernie Taupin/Elton John tune), a syrupy waste of time and energy with the wimpiest, most anemic flute solo ever recorded (this makes Hubert Laws' most sentimental moments seem like the theme from Rocky). At seven-and-a-half minutes, this would have been better served on the cutting-room floor. Despite a few dumpy cuts, this one is necessary for fans of classic '70s soul-jazz and jazz-funk; it's also of peculiar but pointed interest to those interested in the evolution of Afro-Cuban beat science. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1993 | Fantasy Records

The two records that make up Our Man in Havana (the other date was originally called Bembe) were recorded in 1960 during a visit to Cuba by Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo. The first set is superb, featuring an unusual mixture of instruments for a Cuban band: two trumpets, flute, piano, tres (Nino Rivera), bass, timbales, bongos, guiro, conga, and two vocalists. The playing by the local musicians is of high quality, and the ten selections are quite enjoyable. Unfortunately though, that project is combined with the cuts from Bembe, which are in a very different style. The latter project has the music performed entirely by vocalists, other than the percussion of Santamaria and Bobo. Consisting of folk melodies and religious songs, with the emphasis totally on the chanting and singing, the music is intriguing from a historical standpoint but the jazz content is nil on this emotional date (which has Merceditas Valdes taking the vocal on four numbers). So, overall, this is definitely a mixed bag. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Dance - Released August 7, 2006 | Rhino Atlantic

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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 /TiVo