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Still vital

Mongo Returns
Mongo Returns
By Mongo Santamaria

Milestone / Fantasy Records: 1995

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This review first appeared in the March 29, 1996 issue of the North County Times.

One of the earliest proponents of melding Cuban traditions to American jazz, an da former sideman to Tito Puente and Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria is now, with last year's passing of Mario Bauza, the senior spokesman for Latin jazz. [Note: Santamaria passed seven years after this was written, in 2003.]

In his mid-70s, Santamaria continues to lead his band from his congas and bongos, still laying down an undulating Latin rhythm that propels his 13-piece band. And Santamaria is still able to recruit and keep the best in his band – men such as Steve Berrios and Robby Ameen, men who are now stars in their own right.

Conductor/arranger Marty Sheller provides half the compositions, and a willingness to tackle songs such as Stevie Wonder's "You Got it Bad Girl" and Marvi Gaye's "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You" in a Latin vein.

The energy on this release never flags, the musicianship and songwriting are top-notch. It as good an album as Santamaria has turned in in his nearly 40 years as a leader.