When Tito Puente passed away in May of 2000, the world of Latin music lost a true giant, indeed, he was billed variously as the "King of Latin Music," the "King of Mambo," " El Rey de Timbales," or the "King of Latin Jazz," titles he earned working virtually continuously from 1937 to 2000, recording over 100 albums. Now that he has passed on, as with other artists, the various record companies look to their vaults to see what they can reissue. I am not familiar with his entire discography, so I cannot judge the two CDs in this set in comparison with all his other work. But I suspect that, while he may have made better albums, he was so consistent as a performer that there are few better examples of the genre. In fact, both of the original albums won Grammys and were awarded four-and-a-half stars by All Music Guide
, so perhaps Concord
is correct when it refers to them as among Tito Puente's "most exciting and acclaimed albums."
Originally issued as On Broadway
(CCD-4207-2, 1983) and Mambo Diablo
(CCD-4283-2, 1985), Party At Tito's Place
seems an entirely appropriate title for this collection; this is unabashed dance music. If we listen to Tito, we will learn that, in his view, this is the essence of Latin music. In his opinion, without dance, there is no music. For example, "Bossa Nova music was absolutely beautiful," he explained, "yet the dance teachers couldn't get it together on what the dance should look like, so there was never a dance, and finally the music died. The dance teachers have a real responsibility to give a dance and the associated music a life. Some may think they're just teaching a dance. What they're really doing is giving life to music. Again, if there is no dance, there is no music."
So, taken in this spirit, this is a perfect album for those occasions when friends and family drop by and we roll up the carpet and look for some music to dance to that isn't mindless pap with a thudding bass-line that can disturb the neighbors three doors down. This is music of intelligence and spirit, not to mention virtuosity. Puente reveals his prowess not only on the timbales and other percussion, but also as a melodic vibist. His other soloists are strong jazz players, especially saxist/flutist Mario Rivera, and George Shearing, who makes a guest appearance on Lullaby of Birdland
. Most important, perhaps, the arrangements are consistently inventive; we must not forget that Puente studied composition and arranging at Juilliard. He is also assisted by band members Sonny Bravo and Jose Madera and others. They draw on a variety of composers from Ellington to Milton Mascimento to Mulgrew Miller, finding interesting ways to convert meters such as 3/4 (Bluesette
) and 5/4 (Take Five
) into Bolero, Cha-Cha
I would need a dance teacher to tell me which is which. Tito's whole style has been given the name of Salsa
but he rebuffed the idea. "Salsa's not music, it's a condiment," he was fond of saying, "or perhaps you would like an Alkasalsa!" No matter! This is not music for analysis, it's party music. Tito Puente had no pretensions about it, nor should you.