Tito Puente And His Latin Ensemble – Mambo Diablo – Craft Recordings

by | Jun 3, 2023 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

A jazz legend’s legacy is showcased on Craft Recordings’ vinyl re-mastering.

Tito Puente And His Latin Ensemble – Mambo Diablo – Concord Jazz/Picante Records CJP-283 (1985)/Craft Recordings CR00643 180-gram stereo vinyl, 40:11 ****1/2:

(complete list of performing artists below)

Tito Puente was truly a giant in the jazz world. The native born Puerto Rican-American helped to usher in the musical genres of samba, son and cha-cha-cha, and popularize them with the mainstream. His ebullient musicianship launched his recording career. One of his most renowned albums, Dance Mania was released in 1958. In 1963, Puente composed and recorded the hit “One Como Va” which became a staple of Carlos Santana’s repertoire. For more than 40 years, Tito Puente recorded many albums as a band leader. He was prominently featured in film documentaries and made an appearance on The Simpsons. As a live performer, Puente had a flair for showmanship, endearing him to fans around the world.

Craft Recordings has released a 180-gram double vinyl of Puente’s 1985 Grammy-winning album, Mambo Diablo. Puente utilizes a Latin-flavored big band (a lot of percussion, horns and reeds) approach to translate a combination of original compositions and covers. Side One opens with the groove-filled title track. Puente leads the ensemble on vibes, laying down an infectious vamp, as the band executes a cohesive rhythm. Horn accents punctuate the jam with a tenor saxophone (Mario Rivera) solo. Puente and the band are in lockstep, and the fun never lets up. There is an inspired cover of Dave Brubeck’s immortal “Take Five”. The octet manages to capture the melodic essence of the original, but  transforms it into an irresistible dance number with muscular percussion, soaring tenor saxophone, mellow flugelhorn (Jimmy Friasura) and crashing piano chords (Sonny Bravo). Puente’s run on timbales is mesmerizing and the final verse is rendered with dense horn/reed accents. Turning to another jazz icon, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” approximates lyrical jazz balladry. With Puente on vibes and Sonny Bravo on piano, the jam is very traditional  with a modest undercurrent of tempo that accelerates at the 2:50 mark. There is an excellent tenor run by Rivera which is followed by a nimble vibraphone (with echo) that finishes the arrangement. With multiple textures, Puente and company reinvent the pop standard “Pick Yourself Up” into an Afro-Cuban celebration with an infectious jam. Flugelhorn and piano sustain the flow, and a walking bass (Bobby Rodriguez) leads into the densely orchestrated last chorus.

Guest artist George Shearing is featured on the re-purposed version of his standard, “Lullaby Of Birdland”. Shearing’s play is reflective of the overall musical vision of the album and his solo is jubilant. Again, the arrangement is meticulous. With a more restrained tempo, “No Pienses Asi” is a gently flowing reverie of a “Papa” Delgado bolero. What stands out are the crisp, bright horn charts. Piano and vibes lay down the basic melody with a rhythmic pulse. Another original tune, “China” executes the signature tight structure with Puente on vibes again. The use of percussion and horns is fluent and cohesive. Rivera’s flute solo creates a different texture. The finale, “Eastern Joy Dance” is upbeat with lush instrumentation and jazzy nuances with syncopation. This time, Rivera wails on soprano saxophone, lending an exotic motif. Bravo’s piano solo is colorful and is a counterpoint to the horns. A percussion solo by Puente is  wonderful.

The sound mix (Kevin Gray/Cohearant Audio) of this 180-gram re-mastered vinyl is vibrant and balanced. All of the layered instrumentation is clear with excellent stereo separation. This is a must for jazz fans!

—Robbie Gerson

Tito Puente And His Latin Ensemble – Mambo Diablo


Side One:
Mambo Diablo;
Take Five;
Lush Life;
Pick Yourself Up

Side Two:
Lullaby Of Birdland;
No Pienses Asi;
Eastern Joy Dance. 

Tito Puente and His Latin Ensemble:

Tito Puente – timbales, vibes, percussion;
Sonny Bravo – piano;
Jimmy Frisaura – valve trombone, trumpet, flugelhorn;
Ray Gonzalez – trumpet, flugelhorn;
Jose Madera – congas, percussion;
Mario Rivera – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute;
Bobby Rodriguez – bass;
Johnny “Dandy” Rodriguez – bongos, percussion;
George Shearing – piano (Lullaby Of Birdland)

More Information through Craft Recordings

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Album Cover for Tito Puente Mambo-Diablo

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