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Ray Armando and his Playground Quintet: Mallet Hands

Ray Armando has appeared on some of the greatest jazz and Latin albums of all time and has played with Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Nina Simone, Gato Barbieri, Tito Puente and Lionel Hampton, just to name a few. After all these years-he started his involvement with Latin percussion at age 8-he finally has an album of his own.

Mallet Hands, produced by Bobby Matos, is a collection of nine original compositions featuring heavyweight players Ben Clatworthy (tenor sax), George Griffin and Theo Sanders (piano), Eddie Resto (bass), Enzo Tolesco (drums) and Robertito Melendez and Jose “Papo” Rodriguez (bongos). These players do some incredible work. Clatworthy’s tenor solos are stunning, and his interplay with Griffin and Sanders is a knockout on the delectable closing track, “Con Mi Guaguanco.”

Despite all the talented sidemen, however, your attention is never far from Armando’s awesome percussive pyrotechnics. Billy Strayhorn’s classic “Take the ‘A’ Train,” for example, is transformed into an infectious, swinging samba. Armando’s use of a Brazilian cu¡ca is astounding.

Mallet Hands is a roller-coaster trip of rhythms.

Originally Published