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World Music CD Reviews Greater Latin America

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Tito Puente
The Essential Tito Puente
RCA/Legacy

By Eric Seyfarth

Published October 28, 2005

This 40-track two-CD set captures a rich slice of Puente’s prime years from 1949-1960, when the bandleader recorded his most famous sessions, often featuring his trademark intense percussive exchanges. Known as "King of the Mambo," and later simply as "El Rey," Puente’s charisma and virulent arrangements helped fuel the mambo craze during this period of the 1950s. His legendary mid-century collaborations (Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, Johnny Pacheco, and Ray Barretto) ushered in a new sensibility that  fused Latin rhythms with progressive jazz. Puente, who died in 2000, recorded more than 100 albums, working his way through cha cha cha, pachanga, boogaloo and the catch-all salsa. But later in his life, Puente returned to his Afro-Latin roots, of the classic period featured on The Essential. Standouts here include silky Latin jazz standards, as well as the all-percussion blowout “Ti Mon Bo,” “Ran Kan Kan,” "Picadillo," "Cao Cao Mani Picao," "Pa' Los Rumberos," the hugely popular “Dance Mania,” and the original “Oye Como Va,” later covered by Santana, who made it a household tune.

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