By virtue of his warm, flamboyant stage manner, longevity, constant touring, and appearances in the mass media, Tito Puente is probably the most beloved symbol of Latin jazz. But more than that, Puente managed to keep his music remarkably fresh over the decades; as a timbales virtuoso, he combined mastery over every rhythmic nuance with old-fashioned showmanship watching his eyes bug out when taking a dynamic solo was one of the great treats for Latin jazz fans.
Tito Puente has long championed Latin-jazz, a combination of Latin percussion and rhythms with bebop-oriented jazz. This release from the Concord Picante label serves as a perfect introduction to his music. For this date Puente (who performs on timbales and marimba) uses six horns, piano, bass, synthesizer and three other percussionists to play everything from "Donna Lee" and "Stompin' at the Savoy" to his own exotic originals.
Dance Mania, Tito Puente's best-known and best-selling album, came ten years into his career, but at a time (1957) when the craze for mambo and Latin music was beginning to crest. (Another landmark LP, Pérez Prado's Havana 3 A.M., had been released the previous year, and Prado's "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" had hit number one in 1955.) Recorded as part of a just-signed exclusive contract with RCA and appearing in vibrant sound as part of the label's Living Stereo series, Dance Mania exploded with a series of tight arrangements, propulsive playing, and the features of new additions in vocalist Santos Colón and conguero Ray Barretto (who helped, in part, make up for the recent loss of Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria to Cal Tjader's group).
The music on Out of This World is consistently exciting, a very winning blend of bop-oriented jazz and Latin rhythms. Among the key players are trumpeter Charlie Sepulveda, trombonist Papo Vazquez, Mario Rivera on tenor, and no less than four Rodriguezes (bassist Bobby, trumpeter Piro, John on bongos, and Jose on chekere).
For this particular Tito Puente recording, his exciting three-horn, three-percussion Latin jazz octet (which includes longtime saxophone soloist Mario Rivera) is joined by alto great Phil Woods on three of the eight selections, including Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica" and "Repetition." Such songs as "Corner Pocket," "Carioca" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" sound perfectly natural in this Afro-Cuban jazz setting, and Puente (well featured on vibes and timbales) is responsible for two originals and seven of the nine arrangements. The music is danceable, adventurous and quite fun.
Although reeds, brass, and even guitars are tossed in here and there to help create what the liner notes describe as "an exotic picture of tropical wildlife," the main focus is on percussion and some of the best tracks are the ones where the other orchestra members probably stepped out for a cup of Joe. One hesitates at the thought of pumping further caffeine into the timbale-pummelling Puente or his cohorts on congas, guiros, bongos, and assorted other percussion. Listeners who think a computer is necessary to play as fast as the beats would get in 90's jungle music had better check this man's hands out. Highlight track is, hands down, the unforgettable "Witchdoctor's Nightmare," a great way to start off the sounds at any party.