With the exception of a soulful reading of the Box Tops' "The Letter," Mongo's Way abandons the pop covers that dominated Mongo Santamaria's late-'60s dates for Columbia in favor of a more far-reaching Latin jazz sensibility shaped by elements of soul, funk and rock. Working with producer Neal Creque, as well as a superior supporting cast featuring guitarist Eric Gale, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, and drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, Santamaria creates some of his most atmospheric and eclectic music, similar in spirit and scope to the myriad blaxploitation soundtracks jamming retail bins but executed with uncommon artistry. This two-fer reissue also features Up from the Roots, an exploration of the African origins of Caribbean music that prompts Santamaria to set aside his trademark conga drums in favor of traditional African percussion instruments. The LP features some of his most potent and artful playing, capturing the rhythms and textures of traditional African chants with masterful precision. As a primer in African musical history, Up from the Roots at times errs too much on the side of education over entertainment, but by the record's second-half, Santamaria returns to the funky Latin soul of his most popular efforts, unleashing the righteous "Jose Outside" and "Forked Tongue."
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AllMusic Review by Jason Ankeny