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Pacific Mambo Orchestra: Live from Stern Grove Festival

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Putting together your follow-up can't be easy when your self-produced, self-titled debut wins the notoriously competitive Best Tropical Latin Album GRAMMY® Award. Where could trumpeter Steffen Kuehn (from Germany) and pianist Christian Tumulan (from Mexico) lead the Pacific Mambo Orchestra (PMO) from there?

Tumulan and Kuehn smartly construct PMO's second release to do what they do best: They go big, with some songs ringing out with up to twenty instrumental and human voices. They go long, bookending seven live performances with vocal and instrumental studio versions of the Japanese traditional "Sakura" and inserting a howling studio take on Earth Wind & Fire's "Getaway." And they go hard, powered by an incendiary Latin percussion section (timbalero Omar Ledezma Jr. from Venezuela, bongo expert Braulio Barrera from Peru, and Bay area congero Javier Cabanillas).

They blow like possessed madmen, in fact, pretty much throughout Live from Stern Grove Festival. The band's collective credentials include work with a constellation of jazz, Latin and Latin jazz greats including Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band, Pharoah Sanders, Taj Mahal, Cedar Walton, Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Carlos Santana, and even though their material focuses on danceable hot mambo, most musicians in the ensemble burn through their individual parts with smoking jazz chops.

Two live tunes feature percussionist Sheila E. (or, as she's introduced, "The First Lady of 'El Timbal'") on timbales. She leads the PMO as they shred Tito Puente's "Ran Kan Kan," horns burning so hot they leave blisters on the rhythm section, while Tumulan's piano cranks up the heat behind "Mona Lisa," a twirling Latin dance about a woman's burning desire to salsa. Most importantly, it sounds like the PMO had a blast ripping up these two tunes, and this recording allows that fun sound to stream through.

PMO powerfully deliver (Orquestra La 33's arrangement of) the "Pink Panther Mambo" with horns and percussion blasting Henry Mancini}'s classic slinky, easy listening theme groove into a torrid dance number. "Getaway" proves even more inspired, exposing an Afro-Cuban heart beating within Earth Wind & Fire's original and then blasting off like a funk rocket. While these two covers deliver Live from Stern Grove Festival's most transcendent moments, its real star is the magnificent Pacific Mambo Orchestra.

Track Listing: Sakura (Prelude); Sakura (featuring Nora Suzuki); Naturaleza (Live); Ran Kan Kan (Live) [featuring Sheila E.]; Getaway; Mona Lisa (Live) [featuring Sheila E.]; Querer Como Ayer (Live); Pacific Mambo Dance No. 2 (featuring DJ Good Sho); Pink Panther Mambo (Live) [featuring Marlow Rosado]; Serenity (Live); Storm (Live); Sakura (Instrumental).

Personnel: Christian Tumalan: piano, keyboards, rhythm programming; Steffen Kuehn: trumpet; Louis Fasman: lead trumpet; Jeff Lewis: trumpet; Jonathan Ruff: trumpet; Pete Cornell: alto saxophone, alto flute; Doug Rowan: soprano saxophone, alto flute; Benny Torres: tenor saxophone, flute; Tony Peebles: tenor saxophone; Aaron Lington: baritone saxophone; Derek James: lead trombone; Jason Thor: trombone; Mara Fox: trombone; Jamie Dubberly: trombone; Julio de la Cruz: baby bass, electric bass; Javier Cabanillas: Peruvian cajon, congas; Omar Ledezma, Jr.: timbales, vocals; Braulio Barrera: bongos, campana, vocals; Carlos Caro: congas, guiro, guira; Armando Cordoba: maracas, vocals; Diego Zumaran: guitar; Alex Morales: vocals; Nora Suzuki: vocals; Sheila E.: vocals, timbales; Marlow Rusado: piano.

Title: Live from Stern Grove Festival | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Self Produced

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