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September 1997

Tito Puente
50 Years of Swing
RMM

How is it that Tito Puente, a living jazz legend, isn't mentioned in either the The New Grove Encyclopedia of Jazz or the Penguin Guide to Jazz? Jazz purists have marginalized or ignored too many Latin jazz artists. In the case of Tito Puente, the omission is unpardonable.

This compilation celebrates Puente's fifty years in the music business and demonstrates the immense and varied talents of El Rey del Timbal - as intrumentalist (timbales, vibes, marimba, even piano), sonwriter, arranger, and bandleader. There are 50 selections, the earliest from 1946 and the most recent from 1996, representing styles ranging from cha cha cha, mambo and straight ahead Latin jazz to everything in between. The Puente output is huge so this is a drop in the bucket. The tireless Tito is always recording or touring, but be forewarned, he's retiring next year. This is a superb collection with some absolute gems. They include: Rolando LaSerie's vocals on "El Manicero" -a reminder that when Tito covers a classic he winds up owning it; La Lupe's raw vocals on "Que Te Pedi;" Tito's piano on "Guaguanco Arsenio;" Cachao's bowed bass solo on "The Shadow of Your Smile;" Tito's marimba solo on "Guataca" featuring flutist Johnny Pacheco and conguero Ray Barretto; George Shearing's piano solo on "Lullaby of Birdland;" the fabulous trombones on "Machito Forever;" Menique's vocals on "Nina y Senora;" the screeching arrangement of "Hong Kong Blues;" and, again, Tito's marimba solo; and "Complicacion," a distillation of the Puente sound with its complicated and contrasting rhythms. The arrangements, by and large, are Tito's. He is simply one of the best jazz arrangers ever. "Ran Kan Kan," "Timbalero," "Para Los Rumberos," "Ti Mon Bo," "Tito on Timbales," and "Tigimo + 2" are built entirely on percussion, but every number contains ecstatic rhythmic interludes. One runs short of accolades to describe this historic release and, with a price tag of $34.98, its a steal as well.

Originally published in September 1997
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