Various Artists

Latin Jazz: La Combinación Perfecta

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It's such a simple idea that it's hard to believe no one has done it before: a chronological history of Latin jazz. Tied to a book of the same name, this is a superb disc that takes the listener from the start, in 1949, with Machito & the Afro-Cubans offering the splendid, rhythmic "Tanga," all the way to Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes at a descarga (jam session) in 1998. What's astonishing isn't so much how the form developed, although it obviously has, but how fully formed it was in the beginning, whether in the drive of Dizzy Gillespie on "Manteca" or the exotic blossoming of Coltrane's "Giant Steps" in Justo Almario's version. Trumpet, piano, and percussion have always been important elements in Latin jazz, and all three get a workout on the disc, with the legendary Tito Puente giving the timbales a thorough pounding on the exciting "Mambo Beat" from his most creative period in the late '50s -- the first golden age of Latin music in the U.S. But, as the disc shows, there hasn't been a bad period for the style. And the range of big names here is excellent, guaranteeing some wonderful music from some real virtuosos in the field. More than just a simple introduction, this is an in-depth history (with excellent liner notes) of an area of music that's grown and shows no signs of quitting.

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