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Viva Jazz! Angel & His Mambokats In Palm Springs

Viva Jazz! Angel & His Mambokats In Palm Springs
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Acting as both a time machine and purveyor of infectious Afro-Cuban jazz, the Mambokats took the audience on a musical journey through a set of twenty-two tunes that not only revealed their deep knowledge and reverential love of Latin Jazz but provided them with multiple opportunities to showcase their incredible menagerie of talent and showmanship.
Angel & His Mambokat Quintet
Jazzville Palm Springs
Palm Springs, CA
February 8, 2024

It may have been a rather brisk February evening in the Palm Springs desert, but for the nearly two hours that Angel & His Mambokat Quintet held forth from the Jazzville Palm Springs stage inside the Agua Caliente Casino, it was a balmy night in a big city circa 1959. Acting as a time machine and purveyor of infectious Afro-Cuban jazz, the Mambokats took the audience on a musical journey through a set of twenty-two tunes that not only revealed their deep knowledge and reverential love of Latin jazz but provided ample opportunities to showcase their incredible menagerie of talent and showmanship. And it was a show.

The Mambokats are not simply a group to listen to. This is a vivacious combo that is as visual as it is musical. Pianist Dalton Hayes, in the midst of constructing a double-fisted thundering solo, bore the expression of utter seriousness only to suddenly look up with a boyish grin as Cuban bassist David Gomez reproduced the same rhythmic figure. Swaying in tandem to the music was conguero Joey DeLeon, his head thrown back in glee while his hands never missed their target. Seemingly the most serious of the assembly was timbales master Gener Lopez. Maintaining the most stoic of faces, Lopez suddenly let out a whoop of joy or a shout of encouragement as he reacted to the music. After exchanging a knowing glance, he stepped forward to deliver a stunning solo that had his hands in a blur and had the audience unsure of how many hands he actually had. Helming this creative jamboree was the leader, Angel Ferreira.

Immaculately-attired in a tailored tux that fit like a second skin (a la Frank Sinatra circa 1962), Angel initially seemed to confine himself to auxiliary percussion. One minute he supplemented his conga player with his own bongos or lept up from his chair to pick up the maracas. But at any given moment, on any given tune, Angel would set down his instrument, hop up from his chair, and like a modern Thelonious Monk begin to dance to his band's music. For a spell, Angel was a backup dancer for Madonna and he was not letting those dancing skills go to waste. Eleven songs in, Angel, dripping in sweat, called a simple head- bobbing four-bar vamp (similar to the opening of Cal Tjader's arrangement of "Poinciana"). As the band fell into a hypnotic groove, Angel flitted off-stage, made a rapid wardrobe change, and was back in less than a minute. So much for showmanship, but what of the group's music?

One of Angel's claims to fame is his penchant for mining the rich library of Latin jazz. Juan Tizol's "Caravan" mingled with Eddie Cano's burning "I Can't Cry Anymore." Joe Loco's lush 1954 mambo arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael's enduring ballad "Star Dust" was revisited as was "Tenderly," a rather gorgeous feature for Hayes' piano. But don't get it twisted. This was no tribute band. Sprinkled throughout their program were engaging originals from the mind of Angel himself and based on the music, his was a sunny, happy mind.

His originals also give Angel the chance to showcase his honest, authentic, and disarmingly charming vocals. His "Palais Royal" became one of the highlights of the show when Lopez nearly caused a riot after his smoking timbales feature, which Angel somehow topped by simultaneously singing and dancing while staying in tune and on tempo (he later told me that this was the tune's public debut). Fittingly, it was Angel's lovely composition "Never Knew Love Like This Before" that was the artistic peak of the night. Featuring a chipper melody with a lyric detailing how in love the subject was with his lady, the tune contained the schmaltzy-but- clever phrase "Can't get you out my head when you're always on my mind." Closing the evening with a wailing outing on Dizzy Gillespie's "Tin Tin Deo" that left the audience clamoring for more, you could be forgiven for forgetting that it was a rather brisk February evening in the Palm Springs desert. For us in the audience, it was a balmy night in a big city circa 1959.

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