"El Rey del Timbal" (The King of the Timbales), "King of Mambo" and "Little Caesar" were just some of the affectionate nicknames that Ernest Anthony Puente, Jr. achieved as he reigned supreme with Machito and the Afro-Cubans and Tito Rodriguez and his Orchestra at the famed Palladium Ballroom—the "Home of The Mambo" and Birdland—the place for progressive jazz known as be-bop. Collectively, these bandleaders were known collectively as the “The Big Three.” But by 1966, a new generation of music lovers were dancing to the sounds of younger bandleaders such as Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Willie Colón, Johnny Pacheco and Larry Harlow. ...MORE >
"El Rey del Timbal" (The King of the Timbales), "King of Mambo" and "Little Caesar" were just some of the affectionate nicknames that Ernest Anthony Puente, Jr. achieved as he reigned supreme with Machito and the Afro-Cubans and Tito Rodriguez and his Orchestra at the famed Palladium Ballroom—the "Home of The Mambo" and Birdland—the place for progressive jazz known as be-bop. Collectively, these bandleaders were known collectively as the “The Big Three.” But by 1966, a new generation of music lovers were dancing to the sounds of younger bandleaders such as Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Willie Colón, Johnny Pacheco and Larry Harlow.
Maestro Puente had already established himself to the Palladium crowd, a post-World War II mélange of Nuyoricans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, African Americans, Jews and Italians, as the consummate bandleader and showman. Through frequent live radio broadcasts and RCA recordings, he had gained the respect of the jazz community as a progressive composer and arranger, vibraphonist and timbale virtuoso.
This newer generation of the early 1970s did not know of Puente’s historical importance nor that many of the newer crop of bandleaders (particularly Ray Barretto, Johnny Pacheco and Charlie Palmieri) had paid their dues in Puente’s orchestra. It was the time of social upheaval and the Vietnam War, and so the music reflected the tenor of the times. One Mexican-born guitarist who had absorbed the blues and loved Puente emerged then. His name was Carlos Santana and his 1971 recording of Puente’s Oye Como Va (which Puente originally had recorded on El Rey Bravo in 1962) brought Puente back into the national spotlight by becoming a multi-million dollar selling hit with the “psychedelic generation.” Suddenly the rockeros and salseros shared common ground, all brought together by a man whose last name translates into “bridge.”
On Santana’s third album he would record yet another Puente composition titled Para Los Rumberos from Puente’s 1955 RCA album, Cuban Carnaval. Just as Puente’s original version was a showcase for Mongo Santamaria on congas and Puente on timbales, Santana’s version showcased Mike Carabello and José “Chepito” Areas on congas and timbales, respectively.
Suddenly this respected Nuyorican musician started to draw the attention of “outsiders,” and rock DJ’s like Jonathan Schwartz and Alyson Cooper on New York City’s famed WNEW FM radio station. Puente responded by wearing the garb of the day—platform shoes, wide lapelled jackets and even a large Afro hairstyle. It was the beginning of the second half of his career, one which would eventually catapult him into super stardom and transform him into a cultural icon.
This album marks the beginning of that transformation. Puente opens with an updated version of his Para Los Rumberos, slowing the original blistering fast rumba abierta tempo of the 1955 version to a respectable mambo tempo. It’s glorious war chant: “Vamos rumbero, que la rumba ya va empezar," announces that it’s time to hit the dance floor. A masterful arranger, Puente builds the tension with a short phrase in the piano and bass then augments it with the horns repeating it in layers. It finally explodes with a short timbale solo.
Niña y Señora is based on an old Cuban rumba-guaguancó that is slowed slightly to a mambo/guaracha tempo. Opening with some beautiful diana (wordless vocal improv particular to rumba) exchange between Meñique Barcasnegras and trumpeter José Merino, this song is a dancer’s delight. Listen to the close knit vocal harmony of Meñique, Santos Colón and Yayo El Indio on this cut and throughout the album. Meanwhile, Puente’s Guayaba is classic cha-cha-cha. Chico O’Farill’s arrangement of Ya No Me Quieres showcases Puente’s artistry on vibes as he expresses himself melodically on this classic bolero. Palladium Days was originally titled Cuban Nightmare and was only released as a 45 rpm during the late 1950’s. Here, Puente’s re-titled version showcases the talents of Don Palmer on alto, Dick “El Taco” Mesa on Tenor and Mario Rivera on baritone sax.
Puente’s dislike for the term salsa was well documented. “…it’s something I eat, not something I play,” he’d often say. But he did acknowledge that the term helped Afro-Cuban based reach outside of the insular confines of New York City On Salsa y Sabor, an up-tempo guaracha/mambo he explains that salsa means “to add flavor to music.” The highlight here is an organ solo by the legendary Charlie Palmieri. China is yet another classic Puente cha-cha-cha that has become part of the standard repertoire and refers to the beautiful women of Chinese-Cuban ancestry.
The album closes with the fiery up-tempo guaracha/mambo, Contentoso, featuring the close-knit vocal harmony of the coro that explodes in the montuno (solo section) with the percussion and horns and the Venezuelen onda nueva tune titled El Catire.
Although Puente’s career was made on his mastery of Afro-Cuban rhythms, he always embraced a pan-Latino approach and would frequently record in other styles. The title song, which is Venezuelen slang for someone who is blonde, features Puente on vibes and has some tempo changes that the band handles beautifully. Its haunting melody is a tour-de-force for the orchestra and clearly shows that Puente and the musicians he chose exemplified three things—elegance, excitement and above all, excellence.
Para Los Rumberos—Tito Puente
Recorded at Pat Jacques Broadway Recording Studios in New York City.
Engineered by Pat Jacques
Morris Levy, Executive Producer
Produced by Joe Cain, AKA Howard “The Lip” Cosell
Album art and design by Chico Alvarez
Photography by Thomas Rodriguez
All lead vocals by Meñique Barcasnegras
All background vocals (chorus) by Meñique, Santos Colón and Yayo El Indio
Tito Puente – musical director, timbales, vibraphone and marimba
Charlie Palmieri – piano and organ
Israel “Izzy” Feliu – ampeg baby bass
Michael “Mike” Collazo – drumset
Ramón Madamo Diaz – congas
John “Dandy” Rodriguez – bongó, cencerro
José Madera – percussion (clave, guiro, tambourine, additional bells, finger cymbals) replaces John Rodriguez on Guayaba and China where he plays guiro
Don “El Barbito” Palmer – lead alto sax, flute
Pete Fanelli - alto sax
Dick Meza - tenor sax
Mario Rivera - baritone sax, flute
Tony Cofresi - lead trumpet
José Merino – trumpet – intro Diana (improvised solo) on Nina y Señora and bass trumpet
Jimmy Frisaura - trumpet and bass trumpet
Roy Burroughs - trumpet
All arrangements by Tito Puente except for Ya No Me Quieres by Chico O' Farill originally performed by the Machito Afro-Cubans as a vocal feature for Graciela, Puente on this recording plays the melody on vibraphone