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Bobby Matos/John Santos: Mambo Jazz

Who invented the mambo? Most say it was Perez Prado, who in the 1940s was called the king of the mambo with pop hits like “Mambo #5” and “Mambo #8” that sparked an unprecedented wave of Latin dancehall fever. A big misconception is that mambo is a rhythm, when it’s a counterpoint of two melodic lines that interweave in an arrangement as a turn-around to excite the music. It was invented in the late 1930s by Cuban bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez and his brother Orestes when they were part of the band Arcano y sus Maravillas.

Now West Coast Latin jazz kingpins John Santos and Bobby Matos build on Cachao’s ideas for a new millennium mambo that draws from yet another innovation by the great bassist: la descarga-the Latin-jam session. Mambo Jazz opens with a percussion interlude that pulls you into a medium up-tempo Santos original called “Caminando.” As musical conversations are exchanged you get a sense of the diverse instrumental voices on the date with singer Martin Padilla spitting out verses in a gritty street-rumba style. “Mambo Mona Mix X” further fuels the loose jam session atmosphere as ex-Black Note trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos leaves a trail of smoke! But it’s Cuban drum legend Orestes Vilato who takes it home with a tastefully delivered bongo solo.

The spoken-word pieces-including “I Don’t Speak Spanish (But I Understand Everything When I’m Dancing),” a sensuously delivered ode by Denise Cook-are some of the album’s most pleasant surprises. Using the Lopez brothers composition “Mambo,” the tune that ushered in the danzon-mambo and the syncopated counterpoint originally referred to as “diablo” (devil), Cook warns “beware of those who do not dance.” “Cachao” is a word-song delivered by actor Ismael East Carlo and written by poet Jose Castellar to the famous “Descarga Cubana-Como Mi Ritmo No Hay Dos” to celebrate the musical innovator.

Santos and Matos’ driving drums swirl “en clave,” the two-bar pattern that anchors Afro-Cuban music, and fuel the horns a-plenty from unsung talents like reedist Michael Turre (brother of Steve), tenor saxophonist Ron Stallings, trombonist Wayne Wallace and many others.

Mambo Jazz is a great way to kick-off your sunny days.

Originally Published