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Bobby Matos Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble: Bobby Matos: Ritmo & Blues

Chuck Koton By

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Fate blessed Bobby Matos. For a kid who dreamed of growing up to be a Latin jazz musician, he could not have been born in a more fortuitous time and place.

In the years after World War Two, Nueva York's Hispanic population exploded. Between the years 1940 and 1960, the number of Puerto Ricans increased from a mere 60,000 to over 600,000. The Cuban presence also increased exponentially but considerably less in absolute terms. But while Puerto Ricans dwarfed the Cuban physical presence, it was Cuban music that drove everyone wild!

Giants like Machito, Mongo Santamaria and Tito Puente left their tropical islands and came to the island of Manhattan to play their congas, bongos and timbales. And play they did. The sizzling sounds with the Latin sabor intoxicated New Yorkers, who were soon dancing the nights away at the Palladium. The hot rhythms attracted the 50s glitterati like moths to a flame. Movie stars like Marlon Brando and Ava Gardner regularly sat at the front tables, with Brando even trying his hand on the bongos, on occasion, with mixed success.

Meanwhile, uptown in the Bronx, a young Puerto Rican by the name of Bobby Matos was tapping out the clave beat on all the pots and pans he could find in his Jewish Grandma's apartment. And as Paquito D'Rivera observed in the film "Cachao," no one loves Cuban music like the Puerto Ricans. Matos was no exception. As a young teenager, Matos met Machito and even had the cojones to ask the great band leader to play something from his most recent album. And he obliged.

But Matos listened to more than the Latin sounds; he was open to all the sonic flavors that permeated the Bronx. While the mambo animated those elegant dancers at the Palladium, doo wop harmonies echoed through the hallways of Bronx apartment buildings. And the street corners also throbbed with young people doing the boogaloo to James Brown.

On the recording, Ritmo & Blues (Cafe Con Bagels, 2014), Matos indulges all three of these early musical influences, as he performs several Latin jazz classics and injects Afro Latin sabor into several doo wop and soul tunes.

From the first note of the opening tune, "Hey Senorita," the listener is instantly transported to a world of greased back pompadours, convertibles and layered vocal harmonies. Matos, on timbales and congas, is joined by doo woppers, The Mighty Echoes. Matos rearranges Sam Cooke's "You Send Me," enlivening it with the "Latin tinge," as it has been called. The dynamic and sexy vocals of Candi Sosa, sounding like a latin Tina Turner, Theo Saunders insistent piano groove, Pablo Calogero's intoxicating flute work and Matos' timbales transform this soul standard into a hip swayin' charanga.

Matos displays his considerable vocal chops on the classic, "Fever," which the band plays as a slow mambo. Victor Cegarra's heavy piano rhythms, Ismael Carlo on coro and Matos on conga create a haunting, minimalist Latin soundscape to this 50s classic that was Peggy Lee's trademark tune.

Listening to "Bruca Manigua," one can easily imagine two lovers on a romantic, starlit walk along a white, sandy Cuban beach. Violinist Dan Weinstein, Calogero's bird-like flute and Matos on assorted percussion highlight this guajira. Matos performs the Horace Silver classic, "Senor Blues," with vocals by the legendary Joe Bataan, who burst on to the latin soul and bugalu scene in the late-1960s. The Cats get into a serious latin funk groove on this familiar tune as they take it crosstown to East Harlem.

At a recent CD release party in Los Angeles, Matos and his band transformed a grassy knoll into Mambolandia. The intoxicating rhythms that they played might just as well have been driving the dancers at the Palladium. Machito and Tito Puente may be gone, but in the experienced hands of Bobby Matos, those mambo rhythms are alive and well.

Track Listing: 1st Hey Senorita; 2nd Senor Blues(vocal); 3rd Bruca Manigua; 4th You Send Me; 5th Dejarla Pasar; 6th Fever; 7th Lover Boy; 8th Tin Tin Deo; 9th I Want You; 10th Stagg Street; 11th Unchain My Heart; 12th Ain't Too Proud To Beg; 13th Shoo Doo Be Doo; 14th Senor Blues(instrumental)

Personnel: Bobby Matos: timbales, congas, guiro, coro, vocals; Theo Saunders: piano; Robertito Melendez: congas, bata drum; Dan Weinstein: trombones, violins; Pablo Calogero: flute, soprano, tenor & baritone saxophones; Eliseo Borrero: bass, acoustic guitar, cuatro; Victor Cegarra: piano; Frank Fontaine: tenor sax; Jud Matos: percussion; Ismael Carlo: coro; Special guest artists: Joe Bataan; Candi Sosa; The Mighty Echoes; Estaire Godinez: vocals

Title: Bobby Matos: Ritmo & Blues | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Self Produced

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