World & Latin

Western Exposure

26 SEP 08 JOHN C. BRUENING

More than just a lively and satisfying Latin jazz recording, Live at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival captures a watershed moment in percussionist Tito Puente's luminous career.

The fiery MJF gig -- Puente's debut performance at the festival -- was a long-awaited first that showcased a 15-piece orchestra with a huge sound. It also signaled the artist's entry into the jazz arena and opened the door to his prolific association with the Concord Picante label. In addition to (and perhaps because of) a heightened profile in the American mainstream, opportunities for extensive world touring were suddenly open to him throughout the '80s and '90s. Although Puente had been already been performing and recording for two decades by the end of the '70s, the Monterey date proved to be a game changer.

The 10-song set features much of the standard Puente fare -- the "Para Los Rumberos," "Oye Como Va," "Babarabatiri" and others. But, it's the intensity of the overall performance that sets it apart. Even for a live recording, the energy generated by this big-band configuration is barely contained from start to finish, as is evidenced by the highly responsive crowd.

Puente went on to score a Grammy Award in 1978 for La Leyenda, a Latin Grammy for Homenaje a Beny Moré in 1979, and a much broader global appeal via extensive tours of Europe and Asia. Through it all, Puente returned to the Monterey fest many times in subsequent years with his pared-down but no less energized Latin jazz ensemble.