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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Tito Puente on Tico!

Tito Puente's 10 inch LP "Mambos by Punte" Volume 4 on Tico 114 was released in 1952. It is one of his first LPs preceded only by three earlier entries in the series released around the same time and featuring the same artwork with different colors. What I particularly love about this record is the cover!!!! We are so used to seeing pictures of the elder statesman of latin music with his bushy white hair that its refreshing to see a picture of a young Tito Puente; born in 1923 he must have been approximately 28 years old when this picture was taken.

Ed Morales writes in The Latin Beat that "Puente's arrangements synchronized the percussion and brass charts, something that made the music a kind of maddening, heart-racing blast of musical chaos." According to Morales his break was around 1942 when "..back in New York, he landed a regular gig with Machito and his Afro-Cubans, which solidified his grounding in ambitious, orchestral treatments of mambo and Latin big band jazz. Contemporary percussionist Bobby Sanabria credits Puente with being the first Latin drummer to "kick" big band figures with a combination of drums, timbales, and cymbals. His prominence in the orchestra was soon rewarded when Marchito placed him at the front of the stage to feature his unique talents."

Following World War II Tito Puente formed his own band recording early sides, such as the ones featured on this LP, for the original nuyorican record label Tico records (like Celia Cruz and Tito's prime early competitor- the other Tito- Tito Rodriguez). He stayed with Tico during the mambo's successor latin rhythm craze the cha-cha. Around 1955 Tito Puente moved to RCA records where he recorded an important series of LP's (Dance Mania) and gained the marketing muscle that propelled him into the living rooms of mainstream white america.

Although my copy's cover is in great shape, the record, like many 10 inch records typically pressed on thinner slabs of vinyl has suffered a bit. Per the title, the record is made up of latin music of the time and mambos with sometimes hackneyed lyrics of the "How good it is to dance the mambo" variety...Puente's band was always known for the tremendous percussionists it employed such as Mongo Santamaria, Patato Valdes, Willie Bobo, Johnny Pacheco and Ray Barreto most or all of whom went on to great acclaim with their own outfits. The vocals are primarily by cuban-born Vincentico Valdes one of the more renown early mambo singers. "Jumbalato" is sung by the De Castro Sisters who remind me of the Andrews sisters! "Quiere Me y Veras" ("Love Me and You Will See") seems like a traditional latin love song (bolero). Tico 114 includes the tongue in cheek "Mari Juana" whose lyrics I have attempted to translate:

I don’t like Mari Juana
Because last night she hit me
It looks like she didn’t like
A heavy party
Jumped like a frog
From one side to another side
I’m a satisfied man
Frankly, I say.

I don’t like Mari Juana cause last night she hit me

Looks like she didn’t like

Ay ay with Mari Juana I don’t go
Looks like she didn’t like the heavy partying
I don’t go I don’t go with Juana

Jumped like a frog but..

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