The liner notes say that Tito Puente "has truly made himself the King of Latin Music on This Planet." Until Sun Ra can convince the King of Latin Music on Saturn to pay us a visit, Tito will do just fine. Oye Como Va hear how it goes. From the sound of it on this compilation of Puente entries from the Eighties and Nineties, it goes with fiery, exuberant, stop-on-a-dime ensembles, plus soloists who probably don't get all the attention they deserve because of the irresistible beat the Mambo King's timbales (and his minions) are laying down behind them.
But listen to the estimable Bobby Porcelli's soprano on "Mambo Gallego," just to take one example. For those interested in examining pedigrees, his tone derives more from the Coltrane camp than the Lacy army (commanding general Jane Bunnett). Of course, neither Trane nor Lacy ever (yet, in Steverino's case) rode a groove quite like this one, but Porcelli's solo is convincing on any terms: plunk him down in front of Jeff Tain Watts and he'd be the new Young Lion (of whatever age). Whether Porcelli himself would gain anything from the plunking is dubious, but the point is that he is one of the many outstanding Latin jazz instrumentalists whose contributions are dismissed too lightly as belonging to mere "dance music."
The same could be said for Tito Puente himself and his more frequent collaborator (on this collection, anyway), the multi-instrumentalist Mario Rivera. The leader is an absolute master of the vibes, timbales, and marimba. Every malleteer on the planet, with the honorable exceptions of Hamp and Hutch, could go to school on a disc like this one. Meanwhile, Rivera's highly individual soprano makes memorable appearances on "Chang" and "Tito's Colada"; he weighs in no less effectively on tenor on "Mambo Diablo" and "Machito Forever," as well as on flute on the ubiquitous "Oye Como Va" itself. Mention must likewise be made of the crisp David Piro Rodriguez, whose trumpet is as bright and sharp as young Freddie Hubbard's on "Mambo King" and "Picadillo a lo Puente."
The music as a whole is infectious. El Rey has imparted to his excellent soloists the wisdom of "Always leave 'em wanting more": the solos are brief and precisely situated. It is dance music of a kind of easy dignity largely missing in North American music since Ellington, and well deserves attention. Of course, if one were to track down all the Tito Puente LP's and CD's that have ever been issued, it would be time to build a new wing on the house to store them. For those desiring more space around the house, or newcomers to the "King of Latin Music on This Planet," this is a fine place to start.