Mongo Santamaria, Afro Roots
A great starting point for one of the most underappreciated figures in Cuban music.
This is no big band, but it’s a symphony of percussion. Mongo Santamaría is one of the most underappreciated figures in Cuban music. He popularized congas in the world of R&B, played alongside Chano Pozo in Cuba, played with Prado, Puente and Cal Tjader when each one was hitting, pioneered Latin-soul jazz, made “Watermelon Man” a hit, wrote the Coltrane standard “Afro Blue,” along with a whole lot of other things. This album is a combination of Yambú and Mongo, two LPs recorded for Fantasy in ’58 and ’59. These sides are mostly percussion — and what percussion! You wouldn’t go wrong to download the entire Mongo catalogue — it’s particularly rich — but for those just starting out, this is the perfect introduction. The recording, close-miked in a good-sounding room with the percussion defining the mix, is remarkably modern-sounding. The music is compelling.