Tito Puente, 1993
Ah Tito Puente ... where to even start? The man gave James Brown a run for his money as "hardest working man in show business," and the number of albums he recorded is the stuff of legend (I'm sure there's an exact count somewhere online, but that's one thing I'd rather keep a mystery). On two different occasions, I was lucky enough to hear him and his band perform live - even got splashed with some of his sweat, a.k.a. "agua de Puente," while dancing.
This album was the first of his that I bought, and probably for sentimental reasons it's still my favorite to listen to. This was the one I listened to over and over until I figured out and internalized the tumbao rhythm of the bass, something that has fascinated me for a long time. I dissected several of the arrangements, and learned so much from them.
The album starts off with a kick-ass screaming-fast version of "Donna Lee," the lead melody carried by a piccolo, and it just smokes from beginning to end. The arrangement of Mingus' "Moanin'" is a favorite of mine too - starts off with a baritone sax line that's begging to be sampled into a hip hop track. I knew the Mingus version of this tune fairly well before I ever heard this one, but the Puente version is definitely the one that's taken over my aural imagination now. The album is really all gems, with graet soloing and ensemble work. Another stand-out for me is "Mambo Gallego," which fuses flamenco harmonies and melodic ideas with the Afro-cuban rhythmic drive. I used to use that one to teach music students to take rhythmic dictation.
Anyway, it's just a blast, stem to stern. If you like Latin Jazz, it's an excellent one to have.
itunes doesn't have it, but they have this nice greatest hits: