Party at Puente's Place

Tito Puente

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Party at Puente's Place Review

by Ken Dryden

Tito Puente was one of the most popular Latin jazz bandleaders during a fair portion of his career. This slim-line two-CD compilation combines two of his best releases from his the early days of his work for Concord Jazz, originally released separately as Broadway and Mambo Diablo. Puente explores standards, classic jazz compositions, music from Brazilian masters as well as his own works, and is joined by a potent group that includes pianist Jorge Dalto, multi-reed player Mario Rivera and trumpeter Ray Gonzalez. Puente's arrangement of Duke Ellington's timeless ballad "Sophisticated Lady" picks up speed during his brief solo on vibes, while the added percussion gives it an entirely different sound. Likewise, the sassy treatment of Toots Thielemans' "Bluesette" is very fresh. The performance of "On Broadway" showcases Edgardo Miranda initially on guitar, then he switches to cuatro, obviously influenced by George Benson's hit recording from the late 1970s. The furious rendition of Milton Nascimento's "Salt Song" finds the band building upon a repeated vamp for several choruses before releasing into its easygoing theme, spotlighting Rivera's mellow tenor sax. Puente's "T.P.'s Especial" is straight-ahead salsa, with violinist Alfredo de la Fe sometimes suggesting the influence of Stuff Smith in his solo. The personnel on the second disc is similar, except Sonny Bravo is the pianist and there's no violin. "Take Five" changes the standard vamp and adds an echo of portions of its famous theme within the context of the arrangement, creating a rather unique approach. Puente's duet on vibes with Bravo's piano introduces the easygoing Latin treatment of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life." Composer George Shearing takes over the piano for the inspired rendition of his "Lullaby of Birdland," which starts with a well-disguised introduction and showcases Puente's timbales, in addition to their special guest. The old chestnut from the 1930s, "Pick Yourself Up" is atypical fare for Latin jazz but the lively scoring makes it work perfectly. Puente the composer is represented by the catchy "Mambo Diablo" and the sassy salsa "China" (which isn't an Oriental title but a woman's name pronounced Chee-na). The budget price of this compilation adds to its already considerable appeal to fans of Latin jazz.

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