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 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.
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).