Ray Armando wanted to be a baseball player. Growing up in Brooklyn can do that to you. But his family lived right across the street from conguero Mongo Santamaria, and that led to lessons at age eight. Armando went on the road at age 15 with Elmo Garcia and later with Tito Puente. Then began a long career in music, recording with many all-stars and contributing to television and movie soundtracks. His pianists for this session have similar veteran credentials. George Gaffney was Sarah Vaughan’s accompanist for eleven years. Monk-influenced Theo Saunders started out in New York, but moved west to work with like-minded, straight-ahead jazz folk. Add to the formula one tough, English-born jazz saxophonist, one veteran Latin jazz bassist and several experienced, blue-collar percussionists – and you have a cookin’ band.
While the title track was inspired by Mongo Santamaria, Armando could have been writing about himself. Throughout the session, he can be heard driving the pulse with that natural timbre so familiar to all listeners. Armando is careful to let the focus remain with the solo voices: tenor saxophone and piano. One Gene Ammons cooker, several Brazilian samba pieces, a few heartfelt ballads and a whole lot of emotion bring the session to fruition. The hottest number on the album is Saunders’ “Soko,” which features creative improvisation in 3/4 time from piano, saxophone and congas. The piece drives with intensity. Armando’s recording debut as a leader smokes from both a Latin jazz viewpoint and a straight-ahead jazz perspective.
Track Listing: Con Mi Guaguanco; The Boxer; Eighty One; Mallet Hands; Take the