Mongo Santamaria

Skin on Skin: The Mongo Santamaria Anthology 1958-1995

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Licensing power makes Rhino's two-CD Mongo Santamaria anthology a good choice for the newcomer, for it gathers together 34 tracks from 23 albums on seven labels, covering most of Mongo's long career. Even if you already have the Mongo collections issued by Fantasy, Columbia, and Concord Picante, this one duplicates surprisingly little of the music on those albums. Indeed, many of the choices in all periods gravitate toward obscure album cuts, with just a handful of obvious Mongo classics like "Afro Blue," "Watermelon Man," and "Para Ti." The compilers seem to place their emphasis on how Mongo influenced the traditional Latin jazz performers of the '80s and '90s (his chief beneficiary, Poncho Sanchez, contributes a loving reminiscence in the booklet). While this philosophy serves the collection well from the early Fantasy through Riverside years, as well as the late Concord and Milestone stuff, it doesn't quite reveal how far-reaching Mongo's legacy really is. For example, they opt for atypically conservative Latin jazz material from the Columbia years and shortchange the charged-up boogaloos that gave this period its zesty flavor; this is an example of revisionism that doesn't tell it like it was. There is a lot of material from Mongo's brief, now-neglected Atlantic tenure (1969-1972), especially the Up from the Roots album -- after all, Rhino is the current custodian of that catalog -- and there is one decent unreleased selection from Mongo '70, "Panamanian Aire." Licensing restrictions beyond Rhino's control create a 15-year gap (1972-1987), and it might have been nice to hear something from his obscure 1955 solo debut. But all things considered, no other collection does as well in summing up the career of this magnificent conguero/bandleader.

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