Mongo Santamaría

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Afro-Indio Review

by Thom Jurek

Originally released in 1975, this set by master Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria is an exercise in smooth jazz and jazz-funk. Besides its amazing cover by Ron Levine, this disc holds a special place in Santamaria's catalog. This was the first time he was able to reach his goal of making a large band -- in this case, 14 musicians -- sound like an intimate combo. "Creepin" kicks it off; it's an easy-groove number reminiscent of the Crusaders' slippery moves at the time -- think Scratch. "Funk Up," "Mambomongo," and "Funk Down" juxtapose Afro-beat, War-style R&B and funk, steamy salsa horns, and just a touch of Jimi Hendrix for a smokin' raw slice of heated riffing on a theme and two variations. Drummer Bernard Purdie kept the entire band anchored, while saxophonist Justo Almario cuts a mean swathe with his solo in the middle of the track, in the heart of a horn stomp that is unequaled on any of Santamaria's other records. There's even a version LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" that has a vocal chorus to back up Almario's razored saxophone lines; with its Afro-funk backbeat and driving horn section, this one was made for the dancefloor. There is some schlock here, though, in the Joe Gallardo-arranged "Song for You" (not the Bernie Taupin/Elton John tune), a syrupy waste of time and energy with the wimpiest, most anemic flute solo ever recorded (this makes Hubert Laws' most sentimental moments seem like the theme from Rocky). At seven-and-a-half minutes, this would have been better served on the cutting-room floor. Despite a few dumpy cuts, this one is necessary for fans of classic '70s soul-jazz and jazz-funk; it's also of peculiar but pointed interest to those interested in the evolution of Afro-Cuban beat science.

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