Applying their famous two-fer philosophy to the digital era, Fantasy combines Mighty Mongo and Viva Mongo! on a single CD, showcasing two somewhat different slants on Mongo Santamaria's music during a period of exploration. Mighty Mongo leans more to Mongo's jazz side without sacrificing his Afro-Cuban rhythmic base, while Viva Mongo has a more distinctly ethnic Cuban sound with Rudy Calzado's solo vocals and the band's group chanting, Rolando Lozano's wooden flute riding playfully above the ensemble, and the traditional Cuban use of string counterlines. On Mighty Mongo, "Descarga at the Black Hawk" sets an especially tasty groove, with some timbales/congas/cymbals action on an extended vamp. Lozano shines in an extended flute solo on "Bacoso" before a scorcher of a percussion battle develops, while composer/pianist Joao Donato also doubles on trombone on "Sabor." Viva Mongo's highlights include "Las Guajiras," a relaxed spellbinder at a guajira tempo; "Merengue Changa," a stupefying merger of two different rhythmic feelings; and the appropriately titled "Mambo Terrifico." Jose "Chombo" Silva, the Cuban Stan Getz worshipper who also evokes Coleman Hawkins on occasion, careens pleasingly on both albums. Of the two, Viva Mongo is perhaps the more vital record, but it's a close call; both are vibrant expressions of Mongo's art.
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AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell