Mon Dieu! Mondo Mongo is a great place! Mongo Santamaria is the man who gave the world "Afro Blue," a song that caught the ears of John Coltrane and many others for its soaring and dignified spirituality a songmadefor Trane. That the composer himself, meanwhile, is no one-hit wonder is abundantly proven by this Concord Picante collection, aptly titled Afro Blue: The Picante Collection.
There's a hybrid spirit of melancholy and resolution to many of these tracks, a spirit Mongo and Trane seem to share. Here the mood only peeks in occasionally, to give way to a dancer's more proper exuberance. "Un Dia de Playa" and "Mayeya" both contain these small interludes of introspection. The beat doesn't drop, but the spotlight turns inward long enough to establish an attention-grabbing counterpoint to the dance mode.
Mongo is the conga king (on this planet, anyway). The always-superior Bobby Porcelli is here on baritone, along with John Andrews (Johnny Andreu Almendra), timbales and traps; Bob Quaranta, piano; Ray Vega, trumpet and flugelhorn; Mitch Frohman, tenor sax and flute; Bernie Minoso, bass; and Eddie Rodriguez, bongos and percussion. Marty Sheller conducts, and there is a superabundance of guest instrumentalists and vocalists. The musicians themselves form the heart of the coro on many of the tracks, and a splendid time was had by all. I personally liked Ray's brief Milesian turn on "El Campesino," accompanied on the same track by a Coltrane impersonation from Mitch Frohman that starts out like "Freddie Freeloader" but ends up more like "Africa." Among the other soloists, everything Porcelli does is right. Sound is mostly fine, as always with Concord, but I did find Charlie Palmieri's guest piano on "Mayeya" a mite trebly.
It's a beautiful mondo, Mongo. When considering this CD the buyer must once again weigh whether the excellence of these tracks is going to send him back to the original discs in time anyway, so that this one might well be passed up. Newcomers, however, or non-specialists just looking for some great dance music, will find it here.