Ray Mantilla: High Voltage

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A week or so ago I received a call from Harry Sepulveda. Harry and I go way back. We first met in the 1970s, when I used to buy Latin-jazz albums at Record Mart, his store in the Times Square subway station, down a flight of stairs from the Shuttle. Today the store still exists, though it now has a more prominent location facing the shuttle. Latin music still pours out the door, adding flavor to the expansive station. Harry calls whenever there's an album I need to hear. This time his call was about Ray Mantilla's High Voltage, which was just released by Savant Records.

“Papa, how you doin'? Hey, stop down if you can and I'll give you a copy of Ray Mantilla's High Voltage," Harry said. “Ray is fantastic. Man, he's been in the business a long time. And it's produced by Joe Fields for his label."

I dig Joe, so I stopped by on my way downtown to dinner. Harry knows his stuff about Latin music. And Latin-jazz. And jazz. So I love dropping in to chew the fat with him and to see what he thinks is heavy and hip. Before I left, Harry pressed the Mantilla album into my hand along with a couple of others.

When I arrived home later that evening, I put on the CD. Wow, was Harry right. The album is beautiful. Mantilla is an old-school Latin percussionist with sterling jazz credits. He recorded extensively with Herbie Mann starting at the dawn of the 1960s and with Larry Coryell and Art Blakey in the late 1960s. In the early 1970s, he was a founding member of Max Roach's M'boom group. He's on more than 75 jazz albums, including Joe Farrell's Canned Funk, Cedar Walton's Mobius, Freddie Hubbard's Windjammer, Jeremy Steig's Firefly and albums by Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Jimmy McGriff, Mose Allison and many others. 

On High Voltage, Manilla's percussion is hypnotic. He's joined by Ivan Renta (ts/ss), Jorge Castro (bs and fl), Guido Gonzalez (tp, flugelhorn), Mike Freeman (vib on tracks 2 &7), edy Martinex (p, Fender Rhodes), Cucho Martinez (b), (Diego Lopez (d) and Maitreya Padukone (tabala on track 5).

What I love most about this album is Mantilla's gentle but swirling Latin-jazz approach, which lets you dig what's going on from an instrumental perspective. The rhythm is along for the ride. Among the highlights are Exit 45, with a grand Fender solo by Martinez; The Gypsy, with a lengthy tenor sax solo by Renta on the standard; Tu No Me Quieres, a nifty cha-cha-cha featuring Freeman on vibes; the standard Ramona, which also is taken as a cha-cha-cha and Solar. Heck, the entire album is enveloping and shrewd. It's everything Harry said it is: killer.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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