While an individual artist may provide a good introduction to an unfamiliar genre, this approach is rather limited. A lone artist, no matter how talented, can only supply a partial understanding of a style. Another and perhaps more effective method is to listen to a collection like The Colors of Latin Jazz: Mambo Mania!, a collection of 11 mambos recorded for Concord Records. Listening to the album is a little like tuning into a good, hour-plus Latin radio program with no commercials. One can listen to an old pro like Tito Puente cut loose on "Ran Kan Kan," followed by Cal Tjader's innovative "Mambo Mindoro." The infectious rhythm of conguero Ray Barretto on "Ancestral Messages" precedes Hendrik Meurkens' remarkable harmonica work on "Mambo Inn." Although the origins of the mambo date back to the 1950s, these contemporary tunes, recorded between 1980 and 2001, attest to the continued vitality of Afro-Cuban jazz. Energy-wise, live pieces like Poncho Sanchez's "El Conguero" and "Co Co My My" seem to rise the highest, reveling in the crowd's exuberance. Two classics, "A Night in Tunisia" and "Caravan," receive lovely workouts from Arturo Sandoval/Claudio Roditi and the Caribbean Jazz Project, respectively. The Colors of Latin Jazz: Mambo Mania! provides a fine introduction to a vibrant form of Latin music. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford Jr.
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