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Bobby Sanabria / Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra: Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!!

Alain Londes By

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The spirit of Tito Puente comes alive with a riveting live concert, wonderfully recorded, on Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!!. Percussionist Bobby Sanabria fires up the exceptionally talented Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra in an energetic performance, just as he did on Kenya Revisited Live!!! (Jazzheads, 2009), this time showing maestro Puente's depth, majesty, complexity and artistry.

Two distinguishing features of this concert are its stylistic variety, and the new arrangements or reconstructions—still recognizable and true to their original form. Sanabria chose the tunes carefully to demonstrate Puente's full musical breadth within a well-balanced program; a testament served by the omission of classics such as "Oye Como Va."

Trumpeter Paul Stodolka fittingly summons everyone to attention as the intro to the engaging "Elegua Changó"— Elegua, the spirit of chaos and trickery and Changó, the divinity of thunder and lightning, both deities in Yoruban mythology—brings in the whole band with heavy rhythmic punctuation, using all available percussion instruments. "Picadillo" provides ample room for extended vibes, tenor sax, piano and soprano sax solos—the enthusiastic crowd showing its appreciation between each solo, before the next musician enjoys the focus.

Oscar Pettiford's swinging "Bohemia (Birdland) After Dark" and the mellow standard "Autumn Leaves" are transformed into a bolero, including a vibes solo over salsa rhythms, demonstrating Puente's knack for making established tunes his own by embellishing them with a Latin flavor. His ability to understand and cater to other instruments is in evidence on "Cuban Nightmare," a real workout for all the saxophones.

Michael Sherman's baritone sax is very pronounced in structuring "Mambo Buddha." The orchestra builds on that energy by continuing into the big band sound of the syncopated mambo. "Ran Kan Kan." followed by the up-tempo "Alegre Cha-Cha-Cha," where the atmosphere of Manhattan's Palladium Ballroom in its heyday is recreated.

Rachel Kara Pérez is the featured singer on the bolero "Me Acuerdo De Ti," originally made famous by Celia Cruz on Cuba Y Puerto Rico Son (Fania, 1966). Pérez's strong voice lines up well with the rest of the band and at just the right volume. The evening closes strongly with two more mambos including "Mambo Beat," with Sanabria showcasing his mastery of the timbales.

The Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra continues to deliver top-notch musicianship over sometimes challenging pieces, with a very brassy, bold and upbeat sound.

Track Listing: Intro/Elegua Chango; Picadillo; Bohemia (Birdland) After Dark; Autumn Leaves; Cuban Nightmare; Mambo Buddha; Ran Kan Kan; Alegre Cha-Cha-Cha; Ritual Fire Dance; Yambeque; Me Acuerdo De Ti; Mambo Beat; Mambo Adonis.

Personnel: Bobby Sanabria: conductor, musical director, drums (3, 4, 11), vibraphone (2), marimba (2), timbales (12), bombo (13), vocals; Daniel Jamieson: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Jonas Ganzemuller: alto saxophone; Alex Lopez: tenor saxophone; Benjamin Britton: tenor saxophone; Michael Sherman: baritone saxophone; Paul Stodolka: trumpet; Blake Martin: trumpet; Justin Walter: trumpet; Anthony Stanco: trumpet; Tim Vaughn: trombone; Luke Malewicz: trombone; Sam Bittner-Baird: trombone; Frank Cohen: bass trombone; Christian Sands: piano; Alex Salwach: bass; Norman Edwards: drums (1, 2, 5-10, 12, 13), vibraphone (3, 4, 11).

Title: Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!! | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Jazzheads

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