Jack Costanzo was a true pioneer in playing jazz on Latin instruments. In his long career he was always best known for his bongo playing, although he also performed on conga frequently. He gained fame for his work in the late '40s with Stan Kenton's orchestra and as a member of the Nat King Cole Trio (which became a quartet) during 1949-1951. Since then, Costanzo has been heard in a wide variety of settings. This Fresh Sound release reissues two of Costanzo's first sessions as a leader. Most jazz-oriented are five of the first six selections, which feature Costanzo in a pair of overlapping septets with such players as Rolf Ericson or John Anderson on trumpet, altoist Herbie Steward, Bill Holman or Tom Brown on tenor, and pianist Gerry Wiggins in 1954. That project also resulted in "Mambo Costanzo," which showcases Costanzo unaccompanied. The bulk of the CD has Costanzo with a brass section (either six or eight pieces), pianist Eddie Cano, a bassist, and either three or four percussionists/drummers in 1956. The performances are jazzy rather than straightforward jazz, with the orchestra emphasizing ensembles and being propelled by the percussionists. A couple of the tunes are tongue-in-cheek (including "Diga Diga Doo") or lightweight ("Row Row Row"), and John Anderson's arrangements hint at both movie music and Stan Kenton. But there are many moments of interest. In summary, this CD brings back a couple of Jack Costanzo's most important early projects as a leader, showing why he was known as "Mr. Bongo."
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AllMusic Review by Scott Yanow