A CD reissue of a mid-'70s repackaging of Mongo Santamaria's first two Fantasy albums, 1958's Yambu and 1959's Mongo, Afro-Roots is superb Latin jazz. Although these were Santamaria's first albums as a leader, the conga player had already worked with Pérez Prado, Tito Puente, and Cal Tjader, giving him absolutely impeccable Latin jazz credentials to go along with his obviously amazing chops. Considering that these albums were recorded for a general jazz audience and the tight, concise arrangements don't allow Santamaria room to stretch out as he did in concert (most of the songs are in the two- to three-minute range), Afro-Roots is still an impressively genuine album; although the '50s were the age of Martin Denny-style exotica kitsch, most of these tracks are extremely traditional Cuban music. Some, like "Bata" and "Timbales y Bongo," are simply hypnotic solos on the titular instruments, while others are traditional Afro-Cuban folk songs and chants. The delightful original "Afro Blue," which quickly became a Latin jazz standard, almost sounds out of place in this setting.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason