Mario Bauzá: The Legendary Mambo King and His Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra

The history of music of Afro-Cuban origin, music that begat Latin-Jazz cannot be told in 500 words, not in a thousand and you can only make a humble attempt to tell it in hundreds of pages. But anecdotes abound and when they are told, the dramatis personae always include Chico O’Farrill, Machito and one of its greatest creative spirits: Mario Bauzá. Both O’Farrill and Bauzá were friends and their paths crossed in Cuba, New York and probably elsewhere and wherever they went they left incredible compositions and unforgettable performances in their wake. As exciting as they were live, the hours spent in the studio yielded results that were just as good.

This recording by Mario Bauzá entitled The Legendary Mambo King and His Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra (Messidor, 1991), while it may be typical of Mario Bauzá, is full of musical wonders and surprises. This is not only limited to Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite in Five Movements that was conceived by Bauzá and performed by The Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, arranged and conducted by O’Farrill. It was first debuted in 1950, by Machito and His Orchestra, with Charlie Parker on alto saxophone. This 1991 recording features many new faces – the tenor saxophonist and flutist, Enrique Fernández, trombonists, Conrad Herwig and Douglas Purviance and the inimitable Bobby Sanabria on drums and percussion. These musicians, together with the rest of Bauzá’s big band conducted by O’Farrill make this the centrepiece of the recording.

Mario Bauza - The Legendary Mambo King

However, there are a slew of other compositions associated with the Orchestra that follow. The gorgeous and silken-voiced tenor, Rudy Calzado contributes a magnificent chart associated with ‘Palo”, the religion of the Congo, entitled Palo en Ganga. Calzado is untouchable on the song. His fervent call to worship is visceral and exciting. The instrumentalists respond with music that is fiery and electrically charged, and the listener is magically and mystically transported to the Congo, as the mesmerising song unfolds. Another classic is Chucho, written, arranged and conducted by a special guest: the inimitable alto saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera. This early solo by D’Rivera is laced with soaring runs and magical arpeggios. You can also hear the beginnings of D’Rivera’s classic arpeggios that have since become trademarks of his outstanding soli on his first instrument – the soprano saxophone – as well as on clarinet.

The group’s drummer and percussionist, Bobby Sanabria adorns the Afro-Cuban rhythms with quintessential imagery. His memorable performances are all over this album. Of course, his masterful performances must surely have been egged on by the living legend of that time, the conguero Carlos ‘Patato’ Valdés. However the energetic and inspirational musical journey would not have been even half as exciting were it not for the direction of Mario Bauzá (together with his close friend and compatriot Chico O’Farrill). This recording is one of those classic Afro-Cuban sets that continue to fire the minds of musicians, especially Bobby Sanabria and Conrad Herwig, who went on to be the architects of might careers of their own.

Track List – Tanga : Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite in Five Movements – Cuban Lullaby; Mambo; Afro-Cuban Ritual; Bolero; Rumba Abierta; Carnegie Hall 100; Azulito; Son Cubano (Yo Soy El Son Cubano); Ganga (Palo en Ganga); Mambo Rincón; Cucho.

Personnel – Victor Paz: 1st trumpet; Ross Konikoff: 2nd trumpet; Stanton Davis: 3rd trumpet; Larry Lunetta: 4th trumpet; Tracy Turner: French horn; Gregory Williams: French horn; Conrad Herwig: 1st trombone; Gerry Chamberlain: 2nd trombone; Bruce Eidem: 3rd trombone; Douglas Purviance: 4th trombone; Nathan Dunham: bass trombone; Rolando Briceño: alto saxophone; Eddie Alex: alto saxophone; Enrique Fernández: tenor saxophone, flute, background vocals; Dioris Rivera: tenor saxophone, background vocals; Jerome Richardson: tenor saxophone; Pablo Calogero: baritone saxophone; Special Guest: Paquito D’Rivera: alto saxophone, composition (11); Marcus Persiani: piano; Guillermo Edgehill: bass; Juan ‘Papo’ Pepin: congas; Carlos ‘Patato’ Valdés: congas, güiro; Joe Gonzales: bongos, cowbell; Bobby Sanabria: drums, timbales, cascara; Rudy Calzado: lead vocals, background vocals; Singers: Thelma Ithier: soprano; José Joaquin: tenor; Romulus Murrell: baritone; Nat Jones: bass; background vocals: Tatiana Calzado; Yolanda Maldonado; Marcelino Jr Morales; Graciela Pérez; Ray Santos; Mario Bauzá: musical director, background vocals.

Released – 1991
Label – Messidor
Runtime – 47:39

Raul Da Gama
Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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  1. This is such a great album. I was able to hear this group live at Fat Tuesdays in June of 1992 playing mostly this album. What a treat and a blessing that was.


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