There are a hell of a lot of Tito Puente compilations on the market, with those on the Rhino and Concord labels leading the pack, so you may wonder about the sagacity of checking out yet another one. The good news is that The Rough Guide to Tito Puente is well worth your time, simply because it is the most eccentric gathering of the Latin percussion master's work during his prime years from the '60s to the '80s.
You want eccentric? Try "Black Brothers," a slice of Latin blaxploitation soundtracksilly, funky, and endearingly quirky. Much the same assessment can be applied to Puente's "Meditaceo," a version of Jobim that is more Spanish Harlem than Rio in flavor. Then Puente backs that torchiest of Cuban torch singers, La Lupe, on a sexy and hysterically pitched "Jugando Music." And then there's "Oya Como Va," the version Carlos Santana might have sanitized for millions, and a riotous version of "I Could Have Danced All Night," originally from the My Fair Lady Goes Latin album on the Fania label, like most of this material.
Latin music purists will probably turn up their noses at this campy a compilation, which also makes the heretical move of spotlighting Tito's vibraphone playing rather than highlighting his timbales. But look behind and beyond these willfully eccentric choices. You'll hear Latin musical genius at its most inventive, humorous, and entertaining, particularly backing Celia Cruz in an affectionate tribute to Benny More. Tito Puente was a percussion giant in both Latin and jazz contexts, and this collection does justice to his unstoppable energy, sharp intellect, and winsome wit.
Jugando Mama; Mambo Tipico; Penjamo; Malanga Con Yucca; Mas Bajo; Pachito Eche;
Fiesta Con Puente; Piano Pachanga; El Que Usted Conoce; Salsa Y Sabor; Black Brothers;
Vibe Mambo; En El Cafetal; Los Hermanos Pinzones; Guiro 6/8; TP
Tito Puente: percussion, vibraphone; La Lupe, Celia Cruz, Vicento Valdes: vocals; plus
various others (unlisted).