Torrid Timbales

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Latin jazz, thy name is Tito Puente. Yes, yes, one must not forget hallowed names like Chano Pozo, Mario Bauza or Machito, but when you consider the folks who haven't taken the dirt nap yet, then Puente has longevity and craft going for him. The creator of "Oye Como Va" and "Para Los Rumberos" has been leading his own band since the early 1950s and, amazingly enough, at 75 years of age, is still doing it with unflagging enthusiasm and inspiration.

The current album was recorded "live" in an attempt to capture the magic of a night at the Palladium -- New York City's Latin jazz headquarters during the 1950s -- and the remarkable series of Dancemania albums that Puente put out from 1957-1960. Although none of his current sidemen played on those historic sessions, the groove established by Puente's longtime pianist Sonny Bravo and saxophonists Mario Rivera and Bobby Porcelli make you believe that they could have been there.

Containing more than 70 minutes worth of material, this set is a bargain no matter how you look at it. Most of the songs on this disc were written and/or arranged by Puente, with standouts including a wonderful take on Antar Daly's "Barabartibi," a classy rendition of Bauza's "Mambo Inn" and a new semi-duet between master flautist Dave Valentin and Puente called "Flauta Y Timbal." On the latter tune, Valentin and Puente vamp over the percolating piano of Bravo, with brass, chorus and miscellaneous percussion providing a sonic bed for their flights of fancy. There's also a neat showpiece for Puente's two bassists, Ruben Rodriguez and Carlos Henriquez, called "Mas Bajo."

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