Joe Rizo's Mongorama: Mariposas Cantan

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Joe Rizo's Mongorama: Mariposas Cantan
Jose Rizo’s MONGORAMA is a nine-piece Latin Jazz all-star band built and guided to honor Mongo Santamaria by the hand of Jose Rizo, a Latin musical legend in California who's been broadcasting from KJazz 88.1FM (Cal State University, Long Beach) for more than three decades. On their 2010 debut, Rizo enlisted such legends as Poncho Sanchez and Hubert Laws for masterclass versions of Santamaria's epic "Guajira at the Blackhawk" and "Las Guajiras," plus several originals by Rizo, who writes for, leads and produces Mongorama.

Mariposas Cantan drinks deeply from Mongo Santamaria's songwriting cup. "'Mongorama' is the title of the Mongo Santamaria original composition that I chose as the name for this band," Rizo explains. "Mongo contributed this tune to a Cal Tjader session in 1957, Los Ritmos Calientes." This tribute version captures the many moods of the mercurial and explosive Santamaria, from its dark foreboding piano chords to the cowbell's cheerful clatter, and the pure jazz ecstasy of liberating solos on tenor saxophone (by Justo Almario) and timbales (by Ramon Banda).

"Mongorama" was the last session recorded by timbalero Ramon Banda, who became ill and passed during these sessions. "It took us over two years to complete this album because we sadly lost our Mongorama brother, timbalero Ramon Banda. Ramon did record on six tracks," Rizo explains. "On 'Descarga Ramon Banda' I wanted everyone in the band to pay a farewell tribute in their own musical way."

"Descarga Ramon Banda" is undoubtedly Mariposas Cantan's ultimate destination and purpose. Paced by Joe Rotondi's jackrabbit piano, the rhythm section blasts this "Descarga" out of an Afro-Cuban cannon and then spotlights joyously furious solos on piano, trombone (Francisco Torres), flute (Danilo Lozano), congas (Joey De Leon) and timbales (George Ortiz)—plus a violin solo played so passionately, it sounds like Dayren Santamaria is sawing his instrument in half!

"A Little Dab'll Do Ya" completely flips the mood into quiet candlelight and sensuous romance. Pianist Rotondi rocks pensively back and forth as if lost in his own reverie, but then bass and drums and the horns all circle about and arrange the melody, more warm than hot, around him. "My intent was to capture some of the 1960's romantic vibe of Mongo Latin Jazz," Rizo suggests.

Mongorama slows "Watermelon Man" down just enough to simmer instead of boil its funky, chunky groove, pulling a cha-cha feeling out from under its vocal chant, and serves up in one sticky-sweet slice all the rhythmic joy of Mariposas Cantan and the man honored by the name Mongorama—the unforgettable Mongo Santamaria.

Track Listing

Mambo Mindoro; Mariposas Cantan; Helen of Jazz; Fiesta De Charangueros; A Little Dab'll Do Ya; Quiero Menudo; Mongorama; Quindimbia; Watermelon Man; Descarga Ramon Banda; Como Fue; East L.A. Meets Napa.


Joe Rizo's Mongorama: band/orchestra.

Album information

Title: Mariposas Cantan | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Saungu Records

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