World & Latin

Mongo's Eclectic Orchestra

27 NOV 07 JOHN C. BRUENING

Originally recorded in the early 1960s, Sabroso was conga player Mongo Santamaria's introduction of charanga to the masses. In addition, the 13-track set also showcases the equally lively strains of pachanga, descarga and the ever-popular mambo.

Quick music lesson for the gringos: "charanga" is a Cuban dance music performed on European instruments like violin and flute. The style emerged in the early 1900s, and became widely popular in the 1940s. And Santamaria was the one musician perhaps most responsible for that initial surge in popularity.

Helping the percussionist/bandleader bring it all the tracks to life are violinists Felix "Pupi" Legarreta and Josè "Chombo" Silva, and flutist Rolando Lozano. Other noteworthy personnel include trumpeters Louis Valizán and Marcus Cabuto, and Willie Bobo on timbales. Separate and apart from showcasing some fine Afro-Cuban music, the recording goes a long way in explaining how and why many of these session players went on to establish successful solo careers.

Pulling out highlights on this one is a tough task. Suffice it to say that if you're a fan of the high-spirited Latin groove, it's all good. But the middle tracks are especially infectious, thanks in large part to the joyous vocals of Bayardo Velarde, Pete Escovedo and Rudi Calzado. And the simmering instrumental closer, "Para Ti," is perhaps the most satisfying example of what can happen amid the unlikely convergence of horns, violins and percussion.

Cross-pollination never sounded so good.