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Album Review

Pacific Mambo Orchestra: The III Side


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Pacific Mambo Orchestra: The III Side
Pacific Mambo Orchestra—PMO, for short—has a lot to celebrate. With the calendar turning to 2020, this Grammy-winning Latin big band celebrated its 10th anniversary and the early January release of this potent third album. Inviting special guests, strings and part-time personnel to the party, PMO uses this opportunity to craft a spicy stew seasoned with Mambo, Timba, Bolero, bop, classical associations and a whole lot more.

With an excess of heat and rhythmic vivacity in its soul, it's easy to see why PMO has become a perennial favorite on the California festival circuit. There's no shortage of strength or breadth in roster and vision, and that's made clear across these offerings. Opening on "Mr. B's Mambo," composer and featured trombone soloist Mike Rinta points to seminal figures like Machito while updating the titular style and creating a platform for Braulio Barrera's vocals. A Doug Beavers arrangement of PMO pianist and co-leader Christian Tumalan's "Mi Carnaval" keeps spirits high when that first hit is through. It proves to be one of many catchy standouts in the set.

While PMO's direction seems to be fixed in place by the aforementioned coupling, things take a surprising turn with "Mambo Rachmaninoff." Reframing Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, by dressing its inherent romanticism with Cuban Danzón, Guaguancó and Tango rhythms, among others, Tumalan seamlessly blends a broad array of cultural standards. It's the only number on the album that utilizes strings, artfully arranged by Aaron Lington, and it's the first of two dips into the classical well: Tumalan's co-leader, trumpeter Steffen Kuehn, closes out the album with some feature work on a high energy re-write on "Fanfare for the Common Man." But where the band seemed to meet Rachmaninoff halfway in terms of sound and substance, it does no such thing for Aaron Copland. His work is pulled completely into the group's orbit.

The core band and surrounding PMO personnel need no help in selling any of this music, but a number of high-caliber guests appearing on the album's second half certainly add to the draw. Trumpet titan Jon Faddis takes to the stratosphere and drumming dynamo Dafnis Prieto nods to his native Cuba on John Gove's arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia." Vocalist Herman Olivera spreads his charms atop the rumbling "Omi Ye Ye." And guitarist Alex Britti adds some Santana-esque bite—and barbed sentiments—to Jamie Dubberly's take on Gillespie's "Birks Works."

Blending fire with fun, and leaning on Latin traditions while liberally mixing them in different proportions, PMO has created a formula for success that's wholly evident. With sparks of life flying every which way, The III Side is merely the latest document to capture that winning sound.

Track Listing

Mr. B's Mambo; Mi Carnaval; Mambo Rachmaninoff; Le Temps D'Un Horizon; Through The Fire; A Night In Tunisia; Omi Ye Ye; Birks Works; Fanfare For The Common Man.


Pete Cornell: saxophone, alto; Doug Rowan: saxophone, alto; Benny Torres: saxophone, tenor; Tony Peebles: saxophone, tenor; Aaron Lington: saxophone, baritone; Louis Fasman: trumpet; Steffen Kuehn: trumpet; Niel Levonius: trumpet; Jeff Lewis: trumpet; Derek James: trombone; Mike Rinta: trombone; Jeff Cressman: trombone; Christian Tumalan: keyboards; Julio de la Cruz: bass; Javier Cabanillas: congas; Edgardo Cambon: percussion; Carlos Caro: percussion.

Additional Instrumentation

Steve Steinberg: tenor saxophone (2, 3, 7); Galen Green: tenor saxophone (2, 3, 7); Jamie Dubberly: bass trombone; Jason Thor: trombone (2, 3, 7, 9); John Gove: trombone (6); Jeanne Geiger: trombone (4); Shaina Evoniuk: violin (3); Anthony Blea: violin (3); Keith Lawrrence: violin (3); Lewis Patzner: cello (3); Sascha Jacobsen: violin (3); Armando: Cordoba: percussion, vocals; Christelle Durandy: vocals; Braulio Berrera: percussion, vocals; Karl Perraza: percussion; Omar Ledezma Jr.: percussion; Alex Britti: guitar (8); Dafnis Prieto: drums (6); Herman Oliveera: vocals (7); Jon Faddis: trumpet (6).

Album information

Title: The III Side | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Pacific Mambo Records

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On the record

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Luiz Millan
Double Portrait
Giuseppe Millaci and the Vogue Trio

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