Mongo Santamaria


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The June 2003 reissue of late Mongo Santamaria's 1976 album Sofrito -- he died in February 2003 -- by Vaya brings many questions to the fore. While the record was greeted by somewhat lukewarm press reviews at the time of its release given its preoccupation with groove-jazz-oriented sonics and production, and was considered a minor work by many. But on compact disc and with the new look at the era's recordings by virtually everyone, from Willie Bobo, Willie Colón, Ray Barretto, and other jazzmen of the time, such as Deodato, Lonnie Liston Smith, and Herbie Hancock, Sofrito is, perhaps, a timeless Latin soul-jazz classic. Recorded in New York by Jon Fausty with a killer band of salsa and jazz musicians, Sofrito is a wonderfully mixed bag of laid-back Latin-flavored jazz tunes such as "Cruzan," drenched in a beautiful baritone solo by Roger Rosenberg, with Armen Donelian's electric piano and beautiful timbales and traps by Steve Berrios, and Santamaria's congas. On "O Mi Shango," the lone traditional song on the set, killer bata drums by Angel "Cachete" Maldonado work well in juxtaposition to the modern synthesizer and funk backdrops. The gorgeous son rhythms on "Spring Song," lend it a timeless, Nuyorican Soul-feel as an Afro-Cuban orchestra is playing it on a Harlem street corner. Simmering, shimmering, soul-jazz harmony with gorgeous Latin percussion informed by age-old Cuban melodies and funky basslines make this one of the most beautiful tunes on the set. In all, there are no weak tracks on Sofrito, and it offers a near-perfect view of the seamless kind of transcultural music-making that was happening at the time that so informed virtually everything in both genres now.

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