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Mambo Kings 

West Coast Latin jazz

Wednesday, Apr 18 2001
What is mambo? In the '40s and '50s, it was the work of Perez Prado ("the king of the mambo"), Tito Rodriguez, and Tito Puente, who sparked an unprecedented wave of mambo fever. Their music had a heavy instrumental component that fused Afro-Cuban rhythms with the innovative jazz harmonies of bebop to move and delight dancers. But despite the music's popularity then and now, misconceptions about it remain. Commonly perceived as a rhythm, mambo is actually a melodic phrase -- one that animates an arrangement by creating musical lines that play off each other with ricocheting counterpoint.

Now West Coast Latin jazz kingpins John Santos and Bobby Matos get together to create a "new millennium mambo," blending spoken word, jazz, and innovative new beats like songo and timba, on an upcoming collaborative effort -- Mambo Jazz -- set for release next week. The results are masterful -- and for good reason.

Santos is one of the pinnacles of the local jazz scene. As an educator, scholar, percussionist, and bandleader, he has been called a "Renaissance man of Latin music." Nominated this year for two California Music Awards (Best Latin Album and Best Drummer), he and his 2000 Cubop release, Tribute to the Masters, stand out in quality and vision. A true keeper of the New York City-inspired Latin jazz flame, Bobby Matos is a timbalero/bandleader extraordinaire from Spanish Harlem who settled in Southern California in the 1970s. He's worked with greats like Willie Bobo and many others. Now these drum titans gather for a meeting of modern mambo masters -- with an impressive supporting cast that includes Victor Cegerra (piano), Robertito Melendez (conga), and Denise Cook (spoken word/vocals). If you dig percolating Afro-Caribe beats and a jazz sonnet of streaming improvised melodies, then you don't want to miss this rare mambo session.

About The Author

Jesse "Chuy" Varela


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