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Thursday, October 18, 2001

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Melodious solos

Mongo Santamaria: Ole' Ola Concord Jazz (distributed in India by Music Gallery Pvt Ltd, Bangalore); Rs 600

A LEADING percussionist of Latin American music, the Cuban Mongo Santamaria was one of the innovators of the Afro-Cuban style of Latin jazz in the early 1950s. Ole' Ola, recorded in 1989 in San Francisco, is a fine example of this lively genre, characterised by irresistible rhythms, rich orchestration (especially using a variety of percussion instruments) and delectable solos, the whole permeated by the evident zestfulness of the performers. Joining Santamaria on congas here are Johnny Almendra Andreu on traps and timbales, Humberto ``Nengue'' Hernandez on (other) percussion instruments and singing on one number, Bob Quaranta on piano, Bernie Minoso on bass, Ray Vega on trumpet and flugelhorn, Bobby Porcelli on alto and baritone saxophones and flute, Mitch Frohman on tenor saxophone and flute, and Jill Armsbury singing on one number.

Santamaria and his colleagues play nine numbers, all of them infectiously fast-paced. The demanding listener's only complaint might be that this is a rather short CD, at about 45 minutes. The quality of the music certainly goes a long way towards redressing that grievance. All the musicians except Minoso, who plays a quiet, supporting role, take the spotlight in turns for solos that showcase their individual talent. Quaranta, Frohman and Vega lead in contributing melodious solos all through the album, while the percussionists have extended pyrotechnic interludes on about half the numbers.

Only the vocals are somewhat tame, not living up to the potential for zippiness that Latin jazz has, but they figure on only two tracks.

Only for Collectors

Lena Horne: One for My Baby

Times Music; Rs. 75

The beginning of World War II was when jazz's popular appeal was at its peak, when indeed the distinction between it and American pop music became very blurred. Of the four best-known popular female vocalists of the time, Lena Horne alone failed to enter the jazz pantheon; her music was more jazz-influenced pop than jazz. Amazingly for an African-American of her time, she quickly broke into films and later television, so that the potential question mark over her music fell in importance even though she continued to sing.

The 19 songs on this album sound like material dating from that period (around 1940) and illustrate why jazz no longer figures among her claims to fame. While her voice is clear, melodious and full of appeal, several of the numbers find her too appealing — plaintive, indeed. Most of the first side of this cassette falls in this category, including her most famous number, Stormy Weather. Of the rest, including the four lively, even perky, blues songs that end the album, good jazz-influenced orchestration from trumpets, trombones, clarinets and pianos, occasionally drums too, is the most pleasant feature. Horne offers us the most soppy version this author has heard of — What Is This Thing Called Love, a Broadway hit that became a favourite of jazz musicians for its liveliness and the scope it affords for improvisation. Jazz fans who aren't keen on the completeness of their archives have little reason to go out and buy this cassette.


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