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Pacific Mambo Orchestra: Pacific Mambo Orchestra (2012)

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Pacific Mambo Orchestra: Pacific Mambo Orchestra How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

San Francisco's premier Latin big band launches its self-titled Pacific Mambo Orchestra (PMO) debut barely two years after pianist Christian Tumalan and trumpeter Steffen Kuehn
Steffen Kuehn
b.1965
trumpet
founded the 19-piece ensemble. A festival favorite and fixture in the Bay Area, the PMO is a sizzling modern day Latin salsa jazz orchestra built to revisit the big band sounds of '40s through the '60s as they perform dynamite arrangements of music from such Latin giants as Tito Puente
Tito Puente
Tito Puente
1923 - 2000
band/orchestra
, Machito
Machito
Machito
1908 - 1984
band/orchestra
, Celia Cruz
Celia Cruz
Celia Cruz
1925 - 2003
vocalist
and others. For this debut, the co-leaders offer five original compositions and borrow the balance from Latin icon Ruben Blades and saxophonist, composer and educator Dr. Aaron Lington of San Jose State University who, incidentally, is a standout in the reed section of the band.

Kuehn and Tumalan use dazzling orchestrations with instrumentation of four trombones, four trumpets, five saxophones, and a rhythm and percussion section that, altogether, produce an amazing amount of heat. The group's collective experience includes players who have performed with the likes of Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana
b.1947
guitar
, Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
, Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
and a host of major Latin ensembles.

From Tumalan's light piano-layered introduction on the opening salsa-infused "PMO Intro"—which invariably turns heated—through to an instrumental version of "Bolero Cocomo," the album delivers the Latin flair in an aggressive yet tasteful fashion. Instrumentals like Kuehn's "Mr. 5.0," featuring flautist Evan Francis, guitarist Ray Obiedo and New York drummer Tommy Igoe
Tommy Igoe
Tommy Igoe

drums
, are not the mainstay of project but certainly reveal the band's dynamics. "Muevete Con Prisa" is a brief but perfect example of a delicious Latin tune showcasing the band's instrumentalists, with solo leads from saxophonist Tony Peebles
Tony Peebles

saxophone
, Kuehn and trumpeter Louis Fasmon, in addition to the percussion section.

With a powerful performance from the band, it's the vocals that carry the day on this recording and there are plenty of wonderful tunes from which to pick. Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
b.1950
keyboard
's "Overjoyed" is the major vocal highlight of the album, with vocalist Kenny Washington—the "Superman of the Bay Area jazz scene—delivernig a super rendition of this classic. Just as enchanting is Grammy Award-winning vocalist Willy Torres, with his version of Blades' classic "El Cantante"; performed in a totally different key, it does bring to mind the late Puerto Rican salsa singer Hector Lavoe, who made it so popular.

Costa Rican singer Carlos Cascante does the honors on "La Ambicion" and "Cuando Estoy Contigo," while Oakland native and veteran songstress Alexa Weber Morales—accompanied by veteran alto saxophonist Gene Burkert—provides a passionate performance of Lington's love song "Bolero Cocomo." Singer Armando Cordova delivers the last vocals of the set on the moving mambo "Querer Como Ayer," putting a discernible vocal stamp on this fine recording. The arrangements, instrumentals and vocals on Pacific Mambo Orchestra come together quite well on this audacious debut, evolving the Latin big band music of the past into a sizzling salsa sound of the future.

Track Listing: PMO Intro; El Cantante; Overjoyed; La Ambicion; Cuando Estoy Contigo; Mr. 5.0; Bolero Cocomo; Muevete Con Prisa; Querer Como Ayer; Bolero Cocomo- Instrumental Version.

Personnel: Steffen Kuehn: trumpet; Christian Tumalon: piano; Louis Fosman: trumpet; Jeff Lewis: trumpet; Jonathan Ruff: trumpet; Henry Hung: trumpet (2, 3); Larry Lunetta: trumpet (2, 3); Tom Poole: trumpet: (1, 8, 9); Pete Cornell: alto saxophone; Doug Rowan: tenor saxophone; Tony Peebles: tenor saxophone; Benny Torres: tenor saxophone; Aaron Lington: tenor saxophone; Evan Francis: tenor saxophone (4, 6, 7), flute (6); Gene Burkert: alto saxophone (3, 7); Derek James: trombone; Mike Rinta: trombone; Jeff Cressman: trombone; Jamie Dubberly: trombone; Ryan Black: trombone (9); Mara Fox: trombone (1, 8); Jorge Pomar: bass; Abe Gumroyan: bass (1, 2, 8, 9); Camilo Landau: electric guitar (9); Karl Perazzo: timbales, guiro (2); Christian Pepin: congas; Braulio Barrera: bongos, compana; Omar Ledezma, Jr.: timbales (1, 8); Javier Cabanillas: shekere (1), congas (8); Carlos Caro: guiro; Armando Cordova: maracas, vocals (9); Alexa Weber Morales: vocals (7); Willy Torres: vocals (7); Carlos Cascante: vocals(4, 5); Kenny Washington: vocals (3); Ray Obiedo: guitar (6); Tommy Igoe: drums (6, 7, 10).

Record Label: Self Produced


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