One Track Mind: Mongorama, "Tin Marin" (2011)

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Inspired by an early Cachao album, “Tin Marin” is the rousing closer on Mongorama’s new self-titled project on California-based Saungu Records. A thrilling exposion of classic charanga-jazz, the album features a nine-piece all-star band performing new arrangements of early material from Mongo Santamaria and new compositions — like this one, arranged pianist Oscar Hernandez — that were inspired by the legendary jazz conguero (congo player).

Israel Lopez “Cachao” is widely credited, back in the late 1950s, as the first to interpret Cuban music through improvisation. But it was Santamaria who advanced the style past these simple, though now legendary descargas (or jam sessions) — constructing a fixed ensemble that would feature conventional jazz instruments like trumpet and saxophone, rather than simply the traditional violin and flute. John Coltrane later did an incendiary update of his composition “Afro Blue.”

Producer Jose Rizo and Co. have dedicated themselves to continuing that legacy with Mongorama, paying tribute to Santamaria even as they subtly update his sound for a modern era. Notable guests include flute player Hubert Laws, conguero Poncho Sanchez and vocalists Freddie Crespo and Destani Wolf. (Both Sanchez and Hernandez are Grammy winners; Laws is one of the more well-known members of Santamaria’s Latin jazz bands of the late 1960s and 1970s.)

“Tin Marin,” based on a Latino children’s rhyme, uses Cachao’s celebrated 1957 effort Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature as a roadmap, but the group isn’t afraid to leave the well-worn path. Rene Comacho takes over the spot once held by Cachao’s mambo-inspired bass, followed by inspired turns by timbalero Ramon Banda and then Danilo Lozano — who takes a stratospheric ride at the flute. Crespo eggs them on with barely controlled abandon, as the descarga builds to a riveting conclusion.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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  • james nadal

    Good review, informative and to the point. A welcome relief from the grandstanding and rambling one encounters. Well done Mr. DeRiso.

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