Tito Puente – Mucho Puente
Vinyl transfer in 24-bit/192 kHz || Latin, Salsa
1957 RCA Victor || This pressing 1986 Venezuela RCA 102-02019 || Mono
An interesting late 50’s record from Tito Puente, this may not be the best record to inaugurate what (I hope) will be a small series of posts I will do here to commemorate centenary of the great timbalero, bandleader, and icon of Latin music. Lemme tell you why:
There are some tracks that really smoke a Latin groove on this record, but overall this effort feels like an attempt to compete with the eclectic work of Pérez Prado during this period – which is fine, actually, because taking inspiration from your peers is natural (as is, perhaps, trying to beat them at their own game). What is less appealing to me is that the record also seems to be a deliberate effort to capitalize on the success of “exotica” and “lounge” artists like Martin Denny and Les Baxter. I actually appreciate both of those guys, on their own terms, but in their proto-“World Music” dabbling, their take on “Latin music” was pretty diluted. As a result, we see Tito Puento – a Puerto Rican born in the U.S. mainland, and who helped transform Cuban musical traditions into what would eventually become known as salsa – doing away with the clave rhythmic pulse that is at its core.
I suspect that the presence of arranger Hugh Montenegro, who was part of the exotica/lounge music scene, has an influence here.* (see my “footnote”). The repertoire doesn’t exactly showcase Puente’s talents as an instrumentalist or bandleader. A few tracks prominently feature the electric guitar (something Prado was doing with his ‘mambo rock’), while others foreground a very dreamy vibraphone ala Baxter or Denny. The song selection includes Tin Pan Alley (“Lullaby Of The Leaves”) and show tunes (“Tea For Two”, “Poor Butterfly”)
But this is a good place to note that these criticisms need to be tempered, by noting how the music still manages to distinguish itself. The repertoire also features compositions associated with Sonora Matancera and Trio Matamoros, groups that fundamentally shaped Cuban music and its influence around the world. That electric guitar? On “La Ola Maria”, the guitar takes a ripping solo that is clearly influenced by the três playing of Arsenio Rodriguez. “What A Difference A Day Made”, a song made famous by Dinah Washington, was actually written by Mexican bolero composer María Grever. “Son De La Lona,” one of the Matamoros songs here, has a very brief bridge section which, at the hands of past-and- future Puente collaborator Charlie Palmieri, would have been the launch pad for a ten-minute descarga jam. But the interpretation here also lacks the off-beat syncopation that is an essential element of son.
So is this record an attempt to “white wash” Latin music for Anglo audiences, or an attempt by Puente and Montenegro to contribute to contemporary musical “conversations” ? (As my friend Juan replied, from his perch in Spain, “It’s both!”) Exotica and lounge, considered as quintessentially kitsch today, were at the time a kind of musical modernism, so why shouldn’t they also participate in that? Did they see it as a way to cash in, or a way to make a statement? Would any of these questions I’m asking have really mattered to the musicians I’m asking, or the public that consumed them? I don’t have necessarily have or even want answers to any of these musings because, like a certain disgusting “entertainment news” personality who was just hilariously fired from his job just the other day, I’M JUST ASKING QUESTIONS! But it’s part of the nature of “crossover” genres to provoke those questions, since they involve an impulse to transcend boundaries, incorporate new ideas, and reach a wider audience while also staying “true” to one’s roots. These are themes that reappears often in Latin American music and maybe especially the forms that develop in countries with a legacy of “assimilation” as a strong or dominant ideology, and they connect boogaloo to salsa to reggaeton and beyond.
A1 – La Ola Marina
A2 – Lullaby Of The Leaves
A3 – Ecstasy
A4 – What A Difference A Day Made
A5 – Noche De Ronda
A6 – Son De La Lona
B1 – Un Poquito De Tu Amor
B2 – Duerme
B3 – Tea For Two
B4 – Almendra
B5 – Poor Butterfly
B6 – Tito’s Guajira
More information: https://www.discogs.com/release/4235873-Tito-Puente-And-His-Orchestra-Mucho-Puente
From the CD reissue, this album features:
Mongo Santamaria (percussion)
Willie Bobo (percussion)
Hugo Montenegro (probably bandleader and arrangements)
Phil Bodner (woodwinds)
Jerry Sanfino (reeds)
LINEAGE: 1986 RCA Victor (Venezuela) 102-02019; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica Signet TK7E cartridge; Speedbox power supply; Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 preamp; Audioquest Black Mamba and Pangea Premier interconnect cables; RME Babyface Pro interface ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; clicks and pops removed manually with Adobe Audition 3.0; dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.