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Mario Bauza, Tanga CD

Review: Mario Bauza Tanga

by Diane Gordon

Ask several people to define mambo. You may well get several answers. And the same is true if you ask about the term Mambo King. Tanga makes it clear that these are trick questions because the music is too rich and its players too numerous to have any easy answers. Mario Bauza's recent release on the Messidor label features his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, along with some of the seminal musicians whose fusion of Cuban music with jazz resulted in an important chapter of the American musical history. This recording includes compositions by some of the heavy-weight contenders for the mambo king throne, such as Chico O'Farrill and Ray Santos, along with the younger generation of Latin jazz's best musicians.

Tanga begins with the title track, arranged in five movements by Chico O'Farrill. Written by Bauza in 1943, this was the first Afro-Cuban jazz composition featuring the contrasting brass and sax riffs that became a musical signature of the style. Though this piece is described in Max Salazar's liner notes as the "national anthem" of Latin jazz, Bauza's intention here is to present the music in the classical form, as a theme and variations. It includes the lush orchestration of the bolero, a big band mambo section, along with an earlier "roots" mambo movement. Listeners may be thrown by the beginning lullaby movement, sung in operatic style by soprano Thelma Ithier, which O'Farrill seems to use as a stark contrast to the intense pulse of pianist Marcus Persiani in the second movement.

Bauza's suite is followed by O'Farrill's own "Carnegie Hall 100" written to celebrate the renovation of the venue. Featured here is the pure Afro-Cuban singing of Marcelino Jr. Morales, and a chorus. The second half of the recording includes tracks of more traditional arrangements by Ray Santos, who has been one of the best Latin jazz arrangers for half a century. Rudy Calzado, Latin music's leading vocalist, contributes his Ganga, one of the highlights of this recording.

The conclusion of Tanga is a musical tribute to Chucho Valdes, leader of the ground-breaking Cuban jazz group Irakere. Composed by Paquito D'Rivera, who is also features on alto sax, this piece is a take-off from the Cuban bandleader's "Mambo Influenciado." This piece is a great wrap-up for Bauza's musical project, because it sounds more like the Latin jazz of the '90s.

It would be difficult to find a recording that surveys the development of Latin jazz as thoroughly as this one, from the "Afro-Cuban Ritual" movement of Bauza's suite to the final cut, it touches a lot of bases. The lineup of musicians spans the generations, from the eighty one year old Bauza to percussionist Bobby Sanabria, still in his thirties. Though Bauza's music was called Cubop fifty years ago, this recording includes both forties-style arrangements, along with the Latin jazz of the next millennium.

Mario Bauza - Tanga, (Messidor)

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