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Tito Puente: Quatro – The Definitive Collection

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Tito Puente - Quatro
Tito Puente, “El Rey del timbal”

Tito Puente, “El Rey del timbal” was almost singlehandedly responsible for bringing Cuban son, mambo and cha-cha-cha into the ballrooms and auditoriums, contributing to the seminal idiom that came to be called Latin Jazz.

First when he was hired to fill the drummer’s chair in Machito’s ensemble and later with his own groups, Mr. Puente was recognized from his flamboyant style and animated facial expressions and was invited by Machito’s to bring his pair of drums—a pair of highly tuned tom-toms, the “timbales” in Latin America—into the front of the orchestra. This is something that stuck and when the high-flying and inventive drummer set out on his own, adding vibraphone to his expanding battery of drums, he became even more recognizable for the excited yapping and rumbling of his timbales, redolent in the swaggering back-beat of Latin rhythms, heavily inflected in the African polyrhythms that came via African-Caribbean (mainly Cuban) music; his work on the vibraphone was equally innovative.

Tito Puente - Quatro - The Definitive Collection
Tito Puente: Quatro – The Definitive Collection

Tito Puente was a careful listener and growing up in Harlem, later playing at the legendary Palladium he was close to the mesmerising and revolutionary rhythms of Bebop. He probably heard Red Norvo and the ponderous and bluesy dalliances of Milt Jackson. Mr. Puente married the two, developing a distinctive swerving style that suited the chattering rhythms of Latin Jazz, a language with its own idioms and metaphors; its own spectral notes and accents and diacritical remarks that made its charts unique in all the world of sound. He fine-tuned his music to such an extent that the music of no one—not even the great Machito—was ever the same again. This boxed set produced by his old friend and curator of his music, Joe Conzo Sr. together with Sony Music/Latin, Quatro – The Definitive Collection contains the music of Tito Puente that revolutionized Latin music like few other musics except perhaps that of the legendary Bebo Valdés.

Tito Puente and his Orchestra / Carnaval Cubano / RCA Victor / 1956

Between 1956 and 1960, Tito Puente made several records—four to be precise—that have become enshrined in the literature of music as seminal works by a bandleader, who has come to be spoken of in the same breath as Duke Ellington. His music drew from Son, Mambo and cha-cha-cha and had such a unique impact on the heart’s ear that Mr. Puente became instantly beloved of fans and cognoscenti alike; so much so that he was mistaken for a Cuban musician. The first of these records was the seminal Carnaval Cubano a record that featured a mighty orchestra with seven trumpets, four trombones, six woodwinds and reeds and a rhythm section that was led by Mr. Puente and also included the fine bassist, Bobby Rodriguez and the pianist, Alvin Gellers. The musicians together create a proverbial wall of sound in the ensemble passages. But more than the girth and power of the orchestra it was the superlative compositions—eight of the eleven of which, were Mr. Puente’s—and the arrangements that created a myriad of colours, expressing a dramatic array of emotions from pure joy to ponderous melancholia. “Oye Mi Guaguancó” is a classic example of the latter and “Happy Cha-Cha-Cha” of the former.

Tito Puente and His Orchestra: Cuban Carnival
Tito Puente and His Orchestra: Cuban Carnival

But it is also the magnificent rhythmic advancements that Tito Puente made with this record that left an indelible mark on music. The soloists are flawless, playing short and breathtakingly on trumpet, trombone saxophone and flute. The music is immaculately modulated and pianist Alvin Gellers shows that he has impeccable tumbao as well. The heroic performances by Tito Puente, no doubt inspired the other musicians to give off their best. He plays with extreme virtuosity, with depth and also a wonderful degree of humour that came to characterize his playing throughout his career. “Mambo Buda” is a fine example of the many-splendored moods that Mr. Puente expressed. In the end, Carnaval Cubano turns out to be an album that drove the Maestro in the right direction to make the future albums featured in this wonderful boxed set.

Track List – Elegua Chango; Cuál Es La Idea (What’s The Idea); Pa’ Los Rumberos; Que Sera; Oye Mi Guaguanco; Yambeque (Mambo Yambu); Happy Cha-Cha-Cha; Mambo Buda; Cha-Cha-Cha De Pollos; Guaguanco Margarito; Cuban Fantasy.

Personnel – Tito Puente: Leader, timbales, vibraphone and chorus; Nick Travis: trumpet; Frank Lo Pinto: trumpet; Jimmy Frisaura: trumpet; Gene Rapetti: trumpet; Bernie Glow: trumpet; Andres “Merenguito” Forda: trumpet; Sam Seavors: trumpet; Alvin Gellers: piano; Bobby Rodríguez: bass; Mongo Santamaria: percussion; Willie Bobo: percussion; Carlos “Patato” Valdes: percussion: Candido Camero: percussion; John Rodriguez: percussion; Santo Ruso: trombone; Eddie Bert: trombone; Robert Ascher: trombone; Sam Takvorian: trombone; Jerry Sanfino: saxophones and flutes; Marty Holms: saxophones and flutes; Sol Schlinger: saxophones and flutes; Allen Fields: saxophones and flutes; Jose Madera: saxophones and flutes; Dave Kurtser: saxophones and flutes; El Viejo Macucho: vocal (10).

Tito Puente and his Orchestra / Night Beat / RCA Victor / 1957

Night Beat is a special record. On it Tito Puente managed to enlarge his palette of colours without enlarging the scope of his orchestra. Here he seems to have mastered tonal colour and shading using his saxophones and flutes playing contrapuntally, against his trombones and then ripping through the perfect storm of winds and reeds with a brazen trumpet section. Moreover, the percussion is muted. Drums and the rhythmic section create an interminable dance that spins like an eternal harmonic and rhythmic braid around the melodies. Each of the melodies are superbly crafted and have been crafted to “sing” in the absence of a vocalist. There is a very real reason for this. Tito Puente had attempted here to create an idiom that has a more pronounced jazz inflection to it. This was a bold step for a musician who purported to be the master of the Latin Timbales. Perhaps it is, or was to be expected: Mr. Puente was also full of surprises—even as far back in the late 1950s when it was easier to play it safe. The contrasting colours in the densely scored “Night Beat” and the shifts in rhythmic idiom from chorus to chorus in “Mambo Beat” are two of the charts that stand out; the latter with a spectacular baritone saxophone solo.

Tito Puente and His Orchestra: Night Beat
Tito Puente and His Orchestra: Night Beat

“Doc” Severinsen soars with abandon in a tone that is clear and resonant; his annunciation is clear as a bell and he all but steals the show. Mr. Puente comes from underneath the instruments to score a masterful timbale solo and bring the music home. Likewise saxophones and trombones meld like magical apothecaries potions in charts such as “Emerald Beach,” “The Late Late Scene” and in the majestic “Carioca” and “Flying Down to Rio. Yet this album did nothing to tell of the incredible things to come from Tito Puente and His Orchestra.

Track List – Night Beat; Mambo Beat; Sea Breeze; Emerald Beach; The Late Late Scene; Carioca; Night Ritual; Malibu Beat; Flying Down To Rio; Night Hawk; Live A Little.

Personnel – Tito Puente: timbales, vibraphone; Jimmy Frisaura: trumpet; Carl “Doc” Severinsen: trumpet; Francis Williams: trumpet; Gene Rapetti: trumpet; Myron D. Shain: trumpet; John Frosk: trumpet; Morty Trautman: trombone; Bob Ascher: trombone; Eddie Bert: trombone; Sonny Russo: trombone; Allen Lehvterd: saxophone; Joseph Grimaldi: saxophone; Gene Zuizz: saxophone; Martin Holmes: saxophone; Gene Quill: saxophone; Alvin Gellers: piano; Howard Collins: guitar; Harry Galbraith: guitar; Ted Summer: drums; James William Cobb: drums; Bobby Rodríguez: bass; Mongo Santamaria: congas; Julio Basabe Collazo: congas; Willie Bobo: bongos.

Tito Puente and his Orchestra / Dance Mania / RCA Victor, 1958

Tito Puente followed up his remarkable crepuscular album, Night Beat with another wonderful album, Dance Mania a record that erupted from the well-spring of Latin rhythms. The music revolved around a spicy mix of mambo, guaguancó and son montuno. Ironically there was no enhanced rhythm section, but the fact that Mr. Puente’s orchestra now included the inimitable Ray Barretto on congas seemed to fired up the rest of the rhythm section of Ray Rodríguez on bongos, bassist Bobby Rodríguez—whose impeccable harmonics had become the second nature of the orchestra—and the pianism of Raymond Concepción. In all of this was woven the trumpets and saxophones, with the rhapsodic timbales and vibes as well as now marimba as well of Tito Puente adding the decorative elements of the musical fabric, which made the music of the orchestra rock and swerve and swagger with elegance and intricacy.

Tito Puente and His Orchestra: Dance Mania
Tito Puente and His Orchestra: Dance Mania

Added to all of the instrumentation was a wonderful choral element as well. The extraordinary results were felt in charts such as “3-D Mambo,” “Varsity Drag,” which was followed by the spectral brilliance of “Estoy Siempre Junto A Ti” a ballad of magnificent proportions—made so by the superb vocals of Santitos Colón and the glacial spectacle of Tito Puente’s sustaining pedal as he prayed his magnificat on the vibraphones to make this chart a truly special one.

Track List – El Cayuco; Complicacion; 3-D Mambo; Llego Mijan (Son Montuno); Cuando Te Vea (Guaguanco); Hong Kong Mambo; Mambo Gozon; Mi Chiquita Quiere Bembé; Varsity Drag; Estoy Siempre Junto A Ti; Agua Limpia Todo; Saca Tu Mujer.

Personnel – Tito Puente: leader, arranger, timbales, vibraphone & marimba; Bernie Glow: trumpet; Jimmy Frisaura: trumpet; Frank Lo Pinto: trumpet; George López: trumpet; Gene Repetti: trumpet; Larry Moser: trumpet; León Merian: trumpet; Rafael Palau: saxophone; Jerry Sanfino: saxophone; Schapp Pullman: saxophone; Tony Buonpastore: saxophone; Raymond Concepción: piano; Bobby Rodríguez: bass; Ray Barretto: congas; Ray Rodríguez: bongos; Julito Collazo, congas (4, 11); Santitos Colón: lead vocals; Vitin Avilés: chorus; Otto Olivar: chorus; Santitos Colón: chorus; Mickey Crofford: original studio engineer.

Tito Puente and his Orchestra with Buddy Morrow and his Orchestra / Revolving Bandstand / RCA Victor, 1960

Despite what the producer, Joe Conzo’s notes and the conventional wisdom of that time say about Dance Mania it is this recording, Revolving Bandstand that is simply the most ambitious and finest record of the set of four albums that were released from 1956 onwards. The album is infused with the influence of the great Gil Evans and his seminal recording with the Miles Davis nonet, The Birth of Cool. And for the true test of the inspired idea of putting together the orchestras of Tito Puente and Buddy Morrow there is no greater expression than “I Concentrate On You,” “Autumn Leaves,” or for that matter “Harlem Nocturne,” or literally any one of the charts on the album. For example, anyone who has experiences an autumn in north America will testify to the sound of the wind as it wraps about the scraps and leaves in every shade of brown and red and gold. This is the elemental sound that blows through the harmonics of the two orchestras playing that chart. Furthermore, the mighty growl that accompanies the awakening of Harlem as it rises to battle through a new day is captured with thunderous and gorgeous music throughout the short piece.

Tito Puente and His Orchestra: Revolving Bandstand
Tito Puente and His Orchestra: Revolving Bandstand

And then there is this: the percussive parts in songs such as “Kiss of Fire” that bring the chart to a close are simply stupendous. The roar of the congas and the rattle of the bongos together with the loquacious hum of the bass is earth shattering, in a manner of speaking. Moreover, the addition of the conventional trap set mixed in with the Latin rhythm instruments adds a certain swagger to the music. This is eminently attractive in the eternal chart, “Blue Moon” as the song waxes and wanes between the elasticity of the jazz idiom and the swaggering rambunctiousness of the Latin metaphor.

Track List – Bahia [Na Baixa Do Sapateiro]; I Concentrate On You; Autumn Leaves; Harlem Nocturne; Kiss Of Fire; The Continental; Blue Moon; Temptation; So in Love; Baby Won’t You Please Come Home.

Personnel – Tito Puente and his Orchestra: Tito Puente: leader, timbales & vibraphone; Joe Wilder: trumpet; Ernie Royal: trumpet; Pat Russo: trumpet; Pedro “Puchi” Buolong: trumpet; Jimmy Frisaura: trumpet; Rafael: saxophones and flutes; Pete Fanelli: saxophones and flutes; Tom Alfano: saxophones and flutes; William Slapin: saxophones and flutes; Schepp Pullman: saxophones and flutes; Gilberto Lopez: piano; Bobby Rodriguez: bass; Willie Rodriguez: drums; Carlos “Patato” Valdes: congas; Julito Collazo: congas; Ray Barretto: congas; Jose Mangual Sr.: bongos; Santitos Colon: guiro; Jerome Kail: trumpet (7, 8); Buddy Morrow and his Orchestra: Buddy Morrow: leader and trombone; Bernie Glow: trumpet; Jimmy Maxwell: trumpet; Lawrence Brooks: trumpet; Lyle Dedrick: trumpet; Will Bradley: trombone; Frank Rehack: trombone; Chauncey Welsh: trombone; Richard Hisson: trombone; Phil Bodner: saxophones and flutes; Sol Schlinger: saxophones and flutes; Richard Henry: saxophones and flutes; Sam Donohue: saxophones and flutes; Vincent Carbone: saxophones and flutes; Joe Marshall Jr. drums; Al Casamenti: guitar; Steve Lipkins: trumpet (7, 8); Romeo Penque: reeds (7, 8).

Tito Puente and his Orchestra / Single and Outtakes / RCA Victor/1949

The two charts on the outtakes disc were the two sides of a very successful single of the Tito Puente Orchestra that was released in 1949. The superb clarity and upward focus of the horns show Mr. Puente’s early propensity for bright and ravishing trumpets that he used to offset his percussion. In the case of this release this was not only his wonderful work on the timbales, but also the spectacular attack of the great Chano Pozo on bongos.

Tito Puente: Quatro - The Definitive Collection
Tito Puente: Quatro – The Definitive Collection

The outtakes of “Pa’ Los Rumberos” show Mr. Puente to be the exacting bandleader and one who demanded the same perfection that he expected from himself. “Moonlight in Vermont” and “La Virgen De La Macarena” are two charts that did not make it to the original vinyl Revolving Bandstand probably as a result of the lack of space. The music is, however, outstanding and consists of the purity of playing heard throughout the 1960 album nevertheless. Even the chart, “Pa’ Los Rumberos” as it develops shows the complete mastery of Tito Puente on the timbales as the various takes of the chart unfold. This disc too forms an invaluable addition to the boxed set, which is a worthy testament to the grand master of the timbales and of Latin Jazz, the incomparable Tito Puente.

Track List – Ran Kan Kan; Timbal y Bongo; Pa’ Los Rumberos; The Continental; Blue Moon; Moonlight in Vermont; La Virgen De La Macarena.

Personnel – (1, 2): Tito Puente: timbales, vibraphone; Jimmy Frisaura: trumpet; Al DiRisi: trumpet; Tony DiRisi: trumpet; Bernie Glow: trumpet; Luis Varona: piano; Manuel Patot: bass; A. D. Jiménez: conga; Chano Pozo: bongo; Vitin Ariles: lead vocal; Vicentico Valdes: chorus. Outtakes 3 – 9 from Carnaval Cubano; Outtakes 10, 11, from Revolving Bandstand; Outtakes 12, 13, from Revolving Bandstand but not on the original vinyl.

Label: Sony Music Latin
Release date: October 2012

YouTube Video – Tito Puente: Quatro – The Definitive Collection

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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