On this Grammy-winning CD, Puente and a 20-piece big band unleash a fiery live set at Birdland in New York City. The band is loaded with such all-stars as saxophonists Peter Yellin and Mitch Frohman, the equally legendary sax/flute master Mario Rivera, trumpeter Ray Vega, pianist Sonny Bravo, conga vet Jose Madera, bongo/conga man John Rodriguez, Jr., and lead vocalist Frankie Morales, among others. Puente's writing prowess is on display on seven of the 11 cuts. A wild combination of unison and counterpointed horns with churning rhythm informs the Puente-penned title track. Group vocals and swirling horns cement the guaguanco-based "Juventud del Presente," one of two pieces written by Silvestre Mendez. "Ban Ban Quere" is a famous Latin-jazz standard, done here in swift rumba mode featuring Bravo's deft montuno and off-tune coro. A quick tempo and steady, slow beat drive "Como Esta Miguel," which features a fine trombone solo from J.P. Torres. Rivera's immortal flute gives off a strong, steady vibe that the band picks up on for "Cha Cha Cha Mambo." The other Mendez track, "Guaguanco Margarito," is flavored by bata drums, and "Mi Mambia" features a group chorus in full bloom. The ultra-hot Puente chart "Mambo Gozon" is spurred by bubbling percussion led by Rodriguez and Tito on timbales (which he plays exclusively for this performance), while "Oye Mi Guaguanco" uses vocals and horns trading eights, then fours, in the initial melody lines. The set ends with two classics: "Ran Kan Kan" has feverish horns, jubilant singing, and a hefty timbale solo, while "Oye Como Va" is spiced with Rivera's brilliant flute accents. Puente has put out more than 100 recordings over his long career, but in little over an hour, this skillfully edited live session manages to capture the essence of that huge repertoire and get to the pure root of Latin jazz. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos