Monday, February 11, 2013

Thrilling Array of Savage, Passionate Rhythm*


Original Facebook post here.

Today's formative-album replay: Tito Puente, Tambó. This is some kind of dream record--I don't just mean that it's stunning, which it is, but that it seems like the kind of record you could only imagine existed. When, during a Latin music phase in the early '90s, I came across this 1960 collection of instrumentals not just dominated by Puente's extraordinary percussion section but shaped around it, by it, for it, it was a miracle akin to discovering that there actually was a record of Kurt Weill piano-vocal demos (Tryout) or of Ella covering Randy Newman.

There aren't songs here so much as there are compositions, built on thundering or sinuous grooves and layered poly-rhythms, with harmony not so much an afterthought--the contributions of brass and flutes and piano and bass, not to mention tuned percussion, are essential here--as occupying a different importance, less as an organizing principle than as another flavor, another color in the drum-led parade.

You may not think such a record could keep your interest, but this is a soundscape it's remarkably easy to get lost in, and the variety--from full-frontal assault to gentle beach breeze--is prodigious. There's another collection called Top Percussion that has some essential tracks but is only half as good overall. For me, Tambó is Tito's masterpiece; this record makes him sound like, if he hadn't spent his career as a top-notch bandleader and performer, he could have been the Astor Piazzolla of the mambo.

*This is a quote from the liner notes.

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