For a group consisting of five Rochester, New York musicians without any apparent marketability going for them, this Latin jazz combo really nails the genre. Founded in 1997 and appearing at first with the Rochester Philharmonic and fusion/smooth jazz keyboardist Jeff Tyzik, this is Mambo Kings' debut recording. The eight tunes are a good mix of standards, compositions of Mongo Santamaria, Michel Camilo, Luis Bonfa and three originals by pianist/arranger Richard Delaney. Three members of the group have Latin jazz credentials with experience in the organizations of Tito Puente, Paquito D'Rivera and Orquestra La Muralla.
Personally, I find the name Mambo Kings self-confining and dated. They are certainly not just playing in mambo tempo and the name itself reflects a spurt of attention given to a movie at least a decade old and faded insofar as interest is concerned. The music is anything but old and faded. This is vital Latin jazz that is cooking.
Saxophonist John Viavattine deserves applause for knowing how to play a muscular tenor sax in such a setting without barrelling through these compositions like a noisy truck on a two-lane highway. His tenor work on "Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise," "Five Kings," and "Afro Blue" displays sure-footed work that harkens back to pre-Sheets of Sound Coltrane. On other tracks, he performs effectively on soprano sax and flute.
Richard Delaney shows a consistent knowledge of pianistics in salsa/Latin jazz and his arrangements convey the right touch. The two Latin percussionists, Freddy Colon and David Antonetti, provide the fire engine that drives this band. The Luis Bonfa theme from Black Orpheus here titled "Manana de Carnaval" is done as a bolero and offers a cooling break for dancers.