Few have done more in their lifetimes to reinvent the conga and its role than Carlos "Patato" Valdes. His ability to use the conga as an instrument with not only rhythmic but also melodic capabilities is truly revolutionary, and has irreversibly changed the way that congas are played. On his 2004 release, El Hombre, Patato hardly goes four bars playing a simple tumbao (the conga's basic rhythm), constantly underpinning the melody with his four or five drums, tuned to the composition's tonic chord. The record features some truly impressive sidemen, including pianist Edsel Gomez, percussionists Steve Berrios and Marlon Simon, and flutist Dave Valentin, to name a few. The tunes throughout are truly Latin jazz, with complex harmonic and melodic ideas that spring from Afro-Cuban traditions and interact with a truly expressive rhythm section. These are not standards that have been mambo-ized or bop en clave. It is hard to find Latin jazz that does either of those two categories justice. Carlos "Patato" Valdes is an artist who has mastered the free idea exchanges of jazz, and who also owns the Cuban idioms like his native soil. Though there are better examples out there of Valdes' musical genius, El Hombre is a good one, and they're all worthwhile.
AllMusic Review by Evan C. Gutierrez