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Long Live The King

24 JUL 09 JOHN C. BRUENING

By the time Tito Puente recorded Royal T on Concord Picante in January 1993, he had logged in nine previous recordings on the label and more than 100 overall since the start of his career in the 1940s.

Now available in the Digital Only section, the album was released in May of that same year, just a few weeks after his 70th birthday. By virtue of sheer output and endurance -- not to mention his electrifying stage persona and his pioneering combinations of Latin and bebop rhythms -- Puente had earned the reputation of royalty among his peers in Latin jazz.

On this outing, considered one of the finest of his later years, he surrounds his timbales and marimba with a 12-member crew -- six horns, piano, bass, synthesizer and three other percussionists. No surprise here for a guy who built his reputation on the big, multi-layered sound. As always, the rhythm section is rock solid, but the horn players -- most notably Tony Lujan (trumpet), Art Velasco (trombone) and Mario Rivera (flute, sax, piccolo) -- blow hard enough to fan the flames to even greater intensity.

The repertoire is a mix of mostly original material with a couple standards reinterpreted through Puente's innovative perspective. Alongside the exotic "Mambo Gallego" and the upbeat and vibrant title track are familiar numbers like the intensely rhythmic "Donna Lee" and the refreshingly syncopated "Stompin' at the Savoy." In the end, it all comes together effortlessly (or at least seemingly so), thanks to solid material, high-caliber musicianship and airtight arrangements.

If Tito's status as the king of Latin jazz percussion wasn't already obvious by the '90s, Royal T settled any lingering doubts. Nearly a decade after his death, his reign remains undisputed.

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