Album of the Week: Live at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival, Tito Puente and His Orchestra


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Live at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival
Tito Puente & His Orchestra
Monterey Jazz Festival Records

Listeners often consider an artists recorded catalog to be the defining factor of their career, but in many ways, it presents a limited viewpoint of the artist. Most influential musicians performed thousands of times throughout their careers, and a recorded catalog generally represents a small slice of that picture. Although the professionally recorded material serves as a list of milestones, most artists were captured on tape at various points during those thousands of live performances. These recordings contain varying levels of quality; some reach near professional level, while others are rough sketches of the evening. These uneven results are sometimes frustrating, but each recording gives us another perspective on the artist as performer. When these hidden recordings are released to the public after many years, they should be valued as rare musical treasures. The Monterey Jazz Festival has made a habit of recording the many performances that have occurred during its 50-year history, giving the world a number of musical treasures. The release of Tito Puente and his Orchestra Live at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival provides a well-documented look at El Rey performing a combination of his most popular repertoire and some unexpected surprises.

A Powerful Presentation of Popular Songs

Puente connected with the receptive crowd through a group of his most popular songs. Puente and his percussionists start with a slow son montuno and gradually build it into the dramatic introduction of Para Los Rumberos. The creative arrangement spins several variations on the well-known themes, including percussive brass hits. The song culminates with an explosive solo from Puente, combining flash and heavy musicality into a crowd-pleasing study in timbale performance. The classic introduction to Oye Como Va inspires clapping from the audience, who join the band in singing the famous coro. In addition to the songs well-known themes, Puentes band pushes the song forward with constantly changing mambos and moas. Woodwind player Mauricio Smith improvises on his flute throughout the arrangement, adding a tipico element to the performance. Bassist Nilo Sierra presents the standard tumbao on Picadillo, soon joined by pianist Paquito Pastor, the saxes, and the trumpets, until the band builds into a massive sound. As the band quiets to a whisper, vibraphonist Cal Tjader joins the group for a colorful and exploratory solo. After a screaming interlude from the band, Puente takes a turn improvising on the vibes, providing an interesting contrast. These songs showcase some of Puentes strongest points; he connects with an audience through beloved hits, but his band plays them with the enthusiasm of a first time encounter.

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This story appears courtesy of The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz.
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