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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tito Puente, "Dance Mania"

Tito Puente
"Dance Mania"
BMG (1958)

1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die + 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

In a recent blog for a more legitimate publication, I described Slayer's Dave Lombardo as being special for the sense of groove he brought versus other metal drummers, and cited his Cuban heritage as a cause. My editor couldn't hear it.

EDITOR: "I don't hear any groove. All I hear is noise." ME: "It's all relative. I didn't mean he played like Tito Puente."

Tito Puente is Puerto Rican, not Cuban, but he established himself as a monster of groove playing the Cuban genres of Cha-Cha and Mambo, on classic albums like "Dance Mania."

Puente's main instrument was the timbales, a drum set that looks deceptively simple: two shallow dreams tuned high, often coupled with a cowbell. We've looked at half a dozen records that revolve around Latin American percussion sections. It's easier to understand how a guy like Ray Barretto leads a band. Congas are big and resonant. Timbales aren't appreciated so much for volume, so Puente must be doing something right.

I think the best places on "Dance Mania" to find appreciation for Puente, and his whole rhythm section for that matter, are the mambos. No disrespect to the cha-chas: All these are songs built for dancing and require strong rhythmic lines, but mambos allow for much more complex and creative beats. This makes them tougher to dance with, but more awe-inspiring from an instrumental perspective. Check out "3-D Mambo." The rhythm section seems to be on a different wavelength than the trumpet and melodic instruments. When the following track, cha-cha "Llego Mijan," starts up, it sounds like a rest for the band after the previous song.

Admittedly, it takes focus to pinpoint the guy leading the band, due to the number of instruments taking cues from him. "Mi Chiquita Quiere Bembe" makes it a little easier, thanks to Puente's increased attention to the cowbell function from his instrument. For those longing for a solo to demonstrate his talent, listeners will have to make due with his impressive vibraphone skills during "Hong Kong Mambo." This song begs the question, who's playing the timbales if Puente's manning the vibraphone?

As we've seen, New York City generated a wave of phenomenal percussionists. Choosing one that's best is an unlikely task, even with the huge variety of drums they specialized in.

INTERESTING FACT: "Dance mania" is a term used frequently, but it refers to a real malady. "Dancing mania" was rampant in Europe nearly 600 years ago. For reasons unknown, groups of people, sometimes numbering in the thousands would break out in bizarre dances. Although probably not a physical illness, scientists describe it as a "mass psychogenic illness." Basically, peer pressure forces people to do things without them realizing it.

3-D Mambo [Mambo Jazz Instrumental] by Tito Puente & His Orchestra on Grooveshark

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