A vibrant, alternately sensual and explosive celebration of Latin jazz (and some of its greatest practitioners) in Southern California, Mongorama’s latest album Mariposas Cantan continues the tradition of percussive and brassy magic that influential DJ and bandleader/songwriter first envisioned when he formed the ensemble in 2011 in the spirit of Mongo Santamaria’s early 1960s band.
Showcasing a variety of the region’s most acclaimed, adventurous musicians – including saxophonist Justo Almario, flutist/musical director Danilo Lozano and vocalist James Zavaleta – the collection features zesty, freewheeling romps through Rizo/Francisco Torres originals (the title track, “Quiero Menudo,” “East L.A. Meets Napa”), a whimsical, piano driven call and response gem by Lozano (“Fiesta de Charangueros”) and party-ready arrangements of classic Latin jazz jams by Cal Tjader (“Mambo Mindoro”), Santamaria (“Mongorama,” “Quindibia”) and Herbie Hancock (the always engaging and adaptable “Watermelon Man”).
Though the session features dynamic solos and ensemble playing throughout, the tragic loss of timbale master Ramon Banda halfway through the recording process rightly turns the emotional focus to the six selections featuring his hypnotic, explosive grooving (including “Mongorama,” featuring his last solo right after Almario’s buoyant sax run) and the lightning quick vocal/piano/trumpet driven tribute penned by Rizo and Torres in his honor (“Descarga Ramon Banda”).
All great ensembles carry on, however, and George Ortiz’s work as the new member in Banda’s chair is equally spot on. An album that will truly make butterflies (and many others!) sing, Mariposas Cantan is ensemble Latin jazz at is most engaging and inspiring.