Personnel: Mongo Santamaria (congas); Eddie Rodriguez (vocals, percussion); Mitch Frohman (flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Bobby Porcelli (flute, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone); Ray Vega (trumpet, flugelhorn, background vocals); Bob Quaranta (piano); Bernie Minoso (double bass, background vocals); John Andreu Almendra (drums, timbales, background vocals).
Liner Note Author: Marty Sheller.
This is as close to Latin purist Mongo as we have heard in recent years, an eight-piece salsa band -- including several members of the 1997 Tito Puente ensemble, like trumpeter Ray Vega, altoist Bobby Porcelli and tenorman Mitch Frohman -- playing a brace of Mongo classics and Latin jazz pieces live before a hushed crowd in Seattle's Jazz Alley. There are no pop covers, one electric instrument (a bass), lots of extended jazz solos (Porcelli and Frohman really burn on the pioneering Afro-Cuban classic "Manteca"), and an unusual (for Mongo) emphasis on the timbales on many tracks, which shoves the rhythms closer to the salsified Puente manner.
However, tracks like "Juan Jose," "Home" and "Bonita" do have the smooth Mongo cha-cha and guajira grooves, and elsewhere, Mongo lifts himself out of the background often enough to deliver some stirring polyrhythmic conga salvos. For a specific jolt from Mongo's own past, there is "Para Ti" and 10 1/2 stimulating minutes of "Afro Blue." Though the general electricity level of the gig could be higher, Mongo's ageless spirit triumphs again. ~ Richard S. Ginell