Even if not quite essential, this new release is drawn from the same 1980 Montreux Jazz Festival performance from which Santamaria’s live recording Summertime
was previously released (Pablo, 1981) – including all three encores – and so helps to complete a more well-rounded portrait of the legendary Afro-Cuban conguero/bonguero as the 1970s transitioned to the ‘80s. It’s Afro- Cuban jazz from someone who helped forge the mold.
More warm than hot, this is one more fitting coda to Mongo's illuminative and illustrious career. Surrounded by a tight band of longtime associates in Lee Smith (bass), Doug Harris (flute, tenor and soprano saxophones), and Steve Berrios (drums and percussion), plus Milton Hamilton (piano), Allen Hoist (flute, cello, and alto and baritone saxophones), and trumpet player Tommy Villarini, Santamaria almost never puts himself in the solo spotlight. “T.V.” is programmed for the bassist and for the composer and trumpet player whose initials comprise its title, “Sofrito” for pianist Hamilton, and “Pájaro Cantor” for the cellist... but Mongo only puts himself in the spotlight two times, for a few quick bars toward the end of “Pájaro Cantor” and even more briefly in the “Watermelon Man” mid- song break. Still, his bongos and congas rock the music hard and are indispensable to its groove.
The eleven-minute playing time for “Sofrito,” the set’s best performance, is misleading, as it opens with seven minutes of often breathtaking improvised piano, mostly solo but with occasional percussion counterpoint. Villarini breathes fire in his “T.V.” spotlight, in the second encore (“Amanacer”), and in “Sofrito,” scaling incendiary runs with the precision of a scalpel in daring, “dizzy”-ing fashion.
“Watermelon Man” features Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet and Toots Thielemans on harmonica. Though Harris and Thielemans each take two solo turns, Gillespie plays only the melody and horn counterpoint lines and does not solo.
Personnel: Mongo Santamaria (congas, bongos); Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet); Toots Thielemans (harmonica);
Tommy Villarini (trumpet, percussion, cowbell); Doug Harris (tenor sax, soprano sax, flute); Allen
Hoist (alto sax, baritone sax, cello, flute); Milton Hamilton (piano); Lee Smith (bass); Steve Berrios