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Tito x 2: Celebrating The Kings Of Mambo Again

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Tito x 2: Celebrating The Kings Of Mambo Again

Music Reviews

Tito x 2: Celebrating The Kings Of Mambo Again

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TERRY GROSS, host:

Our music critic Milo Miles has reviews of new collections by Latin music pioneers Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente, who were rivals on the band stand.

(Soundbite of music)

MILO MILES: Many music fans enjoy a time-machine fantasy where they are transported back to a famous dance club of the past. For some its Studio 54 or the Fillmores, but for me, the first choice would be New Yorks Palladium Ballroom in the 1950s. The Palladium was the first incarnation of the modern dance club - a free-form space where different cultures and different ethnicities threw aside the social rules and united in motion, and the cascading rhythms of Latin music made it possible.

By the mid-1950s, America was in the midst of a mambo craze, which included not only the mambo itself, but the cha-cha-cha, the rumba and more. It wasnt quite Beatlemania, but it was widespread and the Palladium was the epicenter. There were three clear kings of Mambo. Machito and His Afro-Cubans, the longest-running group; and the two Titos, bandleader and singer Tito Rodriguez and bandleader and timbale drum master Tito Puente - who knocked dancers out night after night with numbers like 3-D Mambo.

(Soundbite of 3-D Mambo)

MILES: The soundtrack to the film The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, remains the best introduction to the Palladium scene, but Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez can boast of ideal introduction albums out at the same time. Puentes is an expanded version of his 1958 masterpiece, Dance Mania. What makes it a timeless party record? Well, theres not an off moment in the 12 cuts. But theyre not relentless the beats invite you out to the dance floor, they dont push, and the record slows down just when the dancers need to. And it simply feels like a continuous, one-take performance.

The original Dance Mania LP was very short, by todays standards, so its a welcome idea that the re-issue includes Dance Mania Volume Two, as well as more than 20 worthwhile outtakes and tracks from other RCA sessions around the same period. Theres no sequence as perfect as Dance Mania, itself, but it all flies way, way up there, including a number with one of my all-time favorite titles, Mambozooka.

(Soundbite of Mambozooka)

MILES: If Puentes Dance Mania features particularly rich percussion language, Tito Rodriguezs collection, El Inolvidable is a singers paradise - from smoking mambos to creamy boleros. But Rodriguez fronted a consistently superb band, with some of the best chops in Latin music. Especially notable were the contributions from bassist Israel Lopez, better known as Cachao, who not only helped invent the mambo, but laid the foundations of Latin jazz with numbers like Descarga Cachao.

(Soundbite of Descarga Cachao)

Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing) (Singing in Spanish language).

MILES: This anthology of 1960s tracks has one lapse. It begins with a 12-minute number in which Rodriguez introduces all the members of his band. Its more musically interesting than dramatic, and just goes on too long. But every other track on the 30-cut double disc is a winner, finishing with a searing trio of live numbers that climax with the finest version of the unforgettable hit, Mama Guela.

(Soundbite of Mama Guela)

Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing) (Singing in Spanish language).

MILES: Rodriguez died tragically young at 50 in 1973, and Puente passed on back in 2000. So the Mambo Kings are gone now, but you can pit Tito against Tito right on your sound system. Its as close as you can come to a ticket to the Palladium. Best of all, the big winner, as they say, is you.

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. He reviewed new collections by Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. You can download Podcasts of our show on our Web site freshairnpr.org. And you can follow us on twitter at nprfreshair.

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