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World Music CD Reviews Greater Latin America

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Tito Puente
King Of Kings: The Very Best Of Tito Puente
BMG Heritage

By JUDSON KILPATRICK

Published March 3, 2006

The phenomenal career of “El Rey,” the charismatic King of the Mambo, spanned six decades and over 100 albums. The most important Latin musician of the last half-century, this Juilliard-trained composer/arranger/multi-instrumentalist was at the forefront of every trend from mambo to cha cha cha. And he was tireless, playing 200 to 300 performances a year right up to the end. So it’s misleading to call this 21-track collection Puente’s “very best”—it doesn’t even contain his most well-known song, “Oye Como Va,” and is limited to his RCA years from 1956-1960. During that exciting period, he added jazzier textures while keeping a strong percussion undercurrent, helped out by fellow legends like Ray Barretto, Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria on such lively classics as “Dance Mania.” Given the age of the material, it sounds remarkably fresh—the remastering is very well done. There are countless Tito Puente best-ofs (such a marathon career is impossible to sum up), but this one’s easy to find, engagingly packaged, and a great place to start. Oh, and you can dance to it.

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