REVIEW: Tito Puente – Live At The 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival

Another in a series of Concord albums celebrating the Monterey Jazz Festival (previously: Brubeck, Tjader) presents the music of an American-born, but purely Latin music maestro, Tito Puente. It was recorded during his band’s triumphant appearance at the 1977 festival, the first of many he would make at the storied venue through the years.

At the time, Puente was a respected, well-known Latin musician and bandleader, but had not yet started the string of chart-topping records and Grammy wins that would be coming his way. It could even be argued that Monterey helped make that happen, along with his equally successful shows at the Newport festival.

Puente was born in the Spanish Harlem section of New York City, the son of Puerto RIcan immigrants, and was a child prodigy who learned to play a number of instruments at a virtuoso level. As he grew to adulthood and began to make his mark in Latin music, he leaned mostly to percussion – especially timbales – and during the many years he performed while leading his own band, his talent and his flamboyant style were always part of his recipe for success.

After the introductory track, the nine musical tracks on Live At The 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival include some of Puente’s best songs, and first up is the tune that would later be one of his biggest sellers, “Para los Rumberos.” It’s a perfect opener to set the mood because it takes off running and doesn’t stop.

He also performs “Oye Como Va,” a piece perhaps more familiar when played by Santana, but hearing the composer’s own version is a real treat. On another of his compositions, “Picadillo,” he’s joined onstage by Cal Tjader, playing vibes for a Latin legend he admired.

But even though most of the tunes Puente performs here are his own, he doesn’t stop there. He also includes a few surprises, among them a cha-cha version of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry About A Thing,” and “Babarabatiri,” a classic Afro-Cuban inspired song that has been performed by many others, but none better than Puente.

Outstanding music from a beloved Latin musician. Highly recommended.


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