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World Music CD Reviews Greater Latin America


Published May 30, 2006

Montreux Heat!

I love Mongo Santamaria for many things: his spirit/spirituality, nobility, humility, vision, artistry, creativity, and his sheer genius. I love that he breathed/lived/played/reveled/exalted his Afro-Cuban racial/cultural heritage to the fullest sans apology. I love Mongo ’cause he wrote “Afro Blue.” I love him for those great Latin boogaloo LPs alongside Cal Tjader in the ’50s-’60s. Most of all though, I love Mongo Santamaria for his own Theory of Relativity: traditional charanga band + brass section + Afro-Cuban percussion + rumba + mambo + bop + R&B + two hard hands = salsa music. Though he recorded over 40 studio albums, Santamaria was best heard live and direct. Exhibit A: Montreux Heat! Recorded at the famed jazz festival on July 19, 1980, this previously unreleased collection of eight tunes more than lives up to its title. The lineup—Tommy Villarini; trumpet/percussion/cowbell, Doug Harris; tenor/soprano/flute, Allen Hoist; alto/baritone/flute/cello, Milton Hamilton; piano, Lee Smith; piano, Steve Berrios; drums/percussion—burning. The guests—Dizzy Gillespie, Toots Thielemans—sizzling. The performances run the gamut, from blistering (“Come Candela,” “Havana”) to smoldering (“Amanecer,” “Para Ti”) to steaming (“Watermelon Man,” “T.V.,” “Sofrito”). Mongo Santamaria passed away in March; Montreux Heat! honors him well.