Soaring At The Hawk


Mongo Santamaria's At The Black Hawk (Fantasy, 1994) makes you grateful for the digital age because it recovers in Concord's Digital Catalog two rare and luscious sets of Mongo madness, one live and one studio, both featuring Willie Bobo on timbales alongside this master conguero, plucked from Santamaria's prime.

Recording live creates a flow of energy between the artists and the audience. Back-to-back beatdowns by timbales, congas, cymbals and other percussion, "Descarga At The Black Hawk" and "Bacoso" unleash a simply breathtaking hurricane of Afro-Cuban and Latin rhythms and jazz. Joao Donato sounds utterly untamable on piano, strumming the ivories with an abandon the other soloists match. Its sounds and rhythms grow more hypnotic and intense as this "Descarga" rolls on, until all you want to do -- all you can do -- is ecstatically dance and shout.

The studio recordings -- especially "Merenge Changa" -- sound more measured but no less classic. Both settings pay more than lip service to the jazz components of Santamaria's music, constructing sturdy frameworks in "Bluchanga," "All the Things You Are," "Para Ti" and "Body And Soul" for strong piano and saxophone solos.

There's almost too much Mongo Santamaria in Concord's catalog to enjoy in one lifetime. But, don't let that stop you from trying. Start with his Cal Tjader recordings, especially Latin Concert (OJC, 1991), and then Afro Roots (Prestige, 1994), Watermelon Man (Milestone, '98), Mucho Mongo (Concord Picante, 2001) and other compilations of classic and modern Mongo.