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Fiesta Picante-The Latin Jazz Party Collection is an example of truth in advertising. It promises "red-hot tracks from Latin music greats," all hot, all danceable, and it delivers in spades. This two-disc set assembles the most sizzling tracks from Concord Picante releases by the top of the heap in Latin jazz: Tito Puente, Poncho Sanchez, Mongo Santamaria, Cal Tjader, Pete Escovedo, Ray Barretto, Jorge Dalto, and Ray Vega.
Best-of collections make up in consistent quality what they sacrifice in continuity. Actually, for continuity, Fiesta Picante stands up better than many. The artists share a passion for Latin jazz and the firepower to bring that passion across to the listener-and I do mean listener. While the chasm between music for dancing and music for listening seems to grow ever wider in most genres, there's plenty of material for both here. The groove is constant and deep, sure whether its source be Tito Puente's or Pete Escovedo's timbales, Poncho Sanchez' or Mongo Santamaria's congas, or some other blast furnace. But that isn't all. Throughout both discs the soloists turn in one standout performance after another: Bobby Porcelli's alto on Mongo's "Mother Jones"; Gary Foster's soprano on Tjader's take of Dizzy's "Guachi Guaro (Soul Sauce)"; Roger Glenn's flute on Tjader's "Serengeti"; Roger Byam's tenor on Ray Vega's "Greenhouse" (where he does not overshadow the leader's clear and impassioned trumpet); Hector Martignon's fervent piano on Barretto's "On a Sunday Afternoon" I could list them all, because there's nary a clinker in the bunch.
And what a lineup: Tito's monster "Oye Como Va"; Jorge Dalto essays Benny Golson's "Killer Joe"; Poncho Sanchez brings Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" all the way back home. Mongo's "Day Tripper" is not to be missed, and my only quarrel with the liner notes is that the pianist who fattens up Lennon and McCartney's original tinny electric guitar groove is not credited at least here.
Fiesta Picante amounts to terrific party music, and more for anyone who's had his fill of dancing and is ready to let the music take over for awhile. It's an excellent introduction to some of the titans of Latin jazz, especially the indomitable Puente, who is probably somewhere making his gazillionth album even today, and Mongo Santamaria, whose influence has reached, through John Coltrane and others who picked up on his "Afro Blue," far beyond the usual environs of Latin jazz. This music deserves distribution far beyond that of any generic or ethnic categorization: this is universal music of celebration. Newcomers are encouraged, after they've gone through this one a few hundred times, to seek out the original discs from which these uniformly fine tracks are taken.