“Mongorama” is a new tribute to Santamaria produced by José Rizo, Oscar Hernandez, Danilo Lozano and Justo Almario. Rizo, the creator of the radio series, “Jazz on the Latin Side”, wanted to document the music of Santamaria’s career using current technology. Most of musicians on the recording are alumni of Santamaria’s groups, and some, like guest artist Poncho Sanchez, were long-time associates of the master conguero. Danilo Lozano, whose father Rolando was Santamaria’s flautist, carries his father’s legacy through another generation. The line-up of tunes is very tasty, although with the vast richness of Afro-Cuban palettes in Mongo’s early recording career, we can only hope that this is only the first of many recording projects by Rizo and the Mongorama collaboration as this CD barely scratches the surface.
The opening tune "Bacoso" contains a soaring and elegant solo by guest artist Hubert Laws and expressive solos by Daren Santamaria on violin and Joey De Leon on congas. "Asi Es La Vida" is a delightful tribute containing a signature solo by Poncho Sanchez that recalls the flavor of his mentor. "Las Guajiras" is a Santamaria tune revisited with love, containing a fine coro section, and tight, expressive flute work by Danilo Lozano. "Bluchanga" adventurously plays on transitions and combinations utilized in traditional charanga and jazz with finesse and skill. Oscar Hernandez’s piano licks add exactly the right touch at precisely the right moments.
"No Molestes Mas" is a fun treatment of a long-time favorite pachanga by Gilbert Lopez and Ray Barretto. I prefer a hypnotic and danceable groove when playing this tune, and I wish Mongorama would have played it at a meter about halfway between the original and the present version. And while I admire the beautiful, romantic voice of Adonis Puentes, I’d enjoy hearing him give a rawer, story-telling treatment to this tune. "Palo Mayombe" will move the listener to dance. With beautifully syncopated moments, this version is very tight, with driving piano work by Alberto Salas and cleverly invented saxophone solos. "Siempre En Ti" is rich and romantic like a tapestry. Here is vocalist Adonis Puentes’ niche. I only hope the listener has a romantic partner close by to dance with!
"Que Maravilloso" is nicely paced, has a good drive and an interesting chord progression. The piano solo by Oscar Hernandez is reminiscent of Rubén González and beautifully supports the solos that follow. Expressive sax work by Justo Almario transitions the listener into the urban, sultry and romantic "Cruzan" revealing an extraordinary use of dynamics.