Machito, Mambo Mucho Mambo

Charles Farrell

By Charles Farrell

on 03.03.11 in Reviews
Elegant, jazz-influenced and ferociously driving

Once upon a time, there were two Titos (Puente and Rodriguez), both of whom had incredible orchestras. During their dual heydays in the late 1950s and early '60s, they battled it out for Latin music's supremacy. Today, both are remembered as legendary figures in Salsa. The consensus among aficionados is that Machito (nee Frank Grillo) led the best orchestra, and Mambo Mucho Mambo presents a strong case on his behalf. Elegant, jazz-influenced (Charlie Parker had recorded with the band), and ferociously driving, Machito's group may have been the first to thoroughly combine the rhythmic complexities of Salsa and bebop. Check out the infectious Harmon-muted trumpet lead that combines with baritone sax counterpoint on "Holiday." Or the controlled power of "Minor Rama," a piece that swings like mad. Best of all, there's a titanic version of the Dizzy Gillespie classic "Tin Tin Deo." Moody and insinuating in its minor vamp section, it hits its stride in the bop inflected harmony of the bridge. To add balance to the program, there's the oddity of "Mambo a la Savoy," a strangely winning hybrid of mambo, the swing standard "Stomping at the Savoy," and a vocal chorus as quintessentially All-American as a Pepsi commercial. But everything on the album is terrific, from the beautiful cowbell and bongo figures in the title track to the precision maraca and timbale work on the Afro-Cuban "Negro Nanamboro." Some tracks feature Machito's foster sister Graciela, whose powerful singing was influential in helping to establish women in Latin music. Arranger/trumpet player Mario Bauza's talents are displayed throughout, adding a further layer of sophistication to the set. This is terrific Mambo music, and a great reminder of why Machito was held in such high esteem.