World & Latin

Mongo's Homecoming

18 NOV 10 JOHN C. BRUENING

The title of Mongo Santamaria's 1998 release on Milestone, Mongo Returns, is a little misleading. The only thing he'd really left was Concord Music Group, where he'd released a string of well-crafted albums culminating in Live At Jazz Alley (1990) before jumping to a couple other labels to make a few records. The appropriately titled 1998 recording marked his return to the Concord fold on Milestone, but also a return to the basic Afro-Cuban sound on which he'd built his reputation since the 1950s.

Mongo is accompanied here by a dozen players who add occasional elements of electronic instrumentation to an otherwise traditional Latin groove. Trumpeter/saxophonist Eddie Allen contributes two of his own compositions to the nine-song set -- the taut and dynamic "Slyck 'N' Slyde" and the cleverly syncopated "Ol' School Groove." Conductor Marty Sheller offers up three more, including the alternately smoldering and soaring "A Kiss In Her Glance."

Mongo and company also borrow a couple gems from the pop realm -- a breezy rendition of Stevie Wonder's "You've Got It Bad Girl," and a wistful (yet still rhythmic) reading of Marvin Gaye's "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You"

Holding it all together is Mongo's consistent rhythmic attack that still sounded fresh at the time of the album's release some forty years after his first appearance on the recording scene -- and continues to hold up more than a decade later.

Mongo's final departure in 2003 was the ultimate one -- the kind that doesn't allow for any more returns. Still, there's plenty of staying power in this gem from the twilight of his brilliant and prolific career.