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Mongo Santamaria: Skin on Skin: The Mongo Santamaria Anthology (1958-1995)

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Did you ever gaze-or in the case of some prices, glaze might be the better term-at the growing number of boxed sets and anthologies in your local record emporium and spot one that made you think “It’s about time”? This two-disc set should elicit just such a response. With the growing visibility and popularity of Afro-Cuban sounds of many stripes, where jazz is concerned there are few who have registered the impact of the modest conguero from the Jesus Maria neighborhood of Havana, Mongo Santamaria. But as this anthology so potently reveals, though he is noted as one of the earliest and most long-standing Afro-Cuban jazz bandleaders and percussionists, Mongo Santamaria is also an early fusionist.

Mongo liberally crossed the mambo, cha-cha-cha, guaguanco, and various shades of Afro-Cubana with Brazilian rhythms, boogaloo soul as well as several other flavors of R&B, and of course jazz, to craft a discography that with the very able assistance of this essential package should be carefully examined. Thrown into his pungent pot of rice and beans are not only these rhythmic traditions, but also the spice of a host of great musicians. Jazz listeners will certainly recognize names like Nat Adderley, Chick Corea, Hubert Laws, Pat Patrick, Vince Guaraldi, Sonny Fortune, Pete Christlieb; such adroit musicians as drummer Steve Berrios and saxman Justo Almario, able to cross over in a single bound, are liberally represented here, as are Latin legends like early Santamaria sidekick Willie Bobo (who refered to himself as a “Spookarican”), Cachao, the kinetic singer La Lupe, and such brilliant players as the amazing flutist Rolando Lozano and saxophonist Jose “Chomba” Silva.

Atop the heap is one of the great hard hands tumbadoros of all time, Mongo Santamaria. His heavy influence on the hand drums is recalled by current master Poncho Sanchez in his program booklet love letter, which also features a warm recollection of a childhood encounter with Mongo’s muse from actor Andy Garcia, and Luis Tamargo’s definitive essay. The selections, carefully assembled with kudos to producer Miles Perlich, range from such hits as “Afro Blue” and “Watermelon Man,” to crossover gems like “Summertime,” “Fever,” and “Cold Sweat,” with Cal Tjader’s “Mongorama,” the classic “Para Ti,” and “Dirty Willie” in between. Not that there aren’t a few bits of triteness (disc 2’s “Hippo Walk” is forgettable), but if getting to the essence of Latin jazz is your mission, this is an absolutely essential package. And if it’s all about having a good time, this be the one, an incendiary instrumental party record.