Tito Puente & His Orchestra
Live at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival
(Monterey Jazz Festival/Concord)
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2008, Volume 15, #9
Written by John Metzger
Wed September 24, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Tito Puente already had a sterling reputation and a sizeable following within certain segments of the jazz community when Carlos Santana began turning his songs into rock ’n‘ roll anthems in 1970. Forever thereafter, Puente was harmed as much he was helped by the attention he received. On the one hand, he eventually parlayed his elevated profile into a recording contract with Concord’s Picante wing, for which he made some of his finest studio sets and subsequently obtained a great deal of critical and commercial success. On the other hand, he was saddled with the expectation that several familiar tunes always would be featured in his performances.
To a certain degree, Puente’s appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival on September 18, 1977 illustrates the difficulties that he experienced in trying to find the right balance between pop stardom and a desire to play his distinctive brand of big band jazz. Although his gambit ultimately proved itself to have been ineffective, Puente wisely opted to open rather than close the show with the songs that Santana made famous. Para Los Rumberos benefited tremendously from its placement at the top of Puente’s set, where the audience’s reaction and the group’s enthusiasm over its debut at the esteemed annual gathering were sufficient for giving the tune a hearty jolt of electricity. During the subsequent selection Oye Como Va, however, the ensemble’s momentum slipped considerably because the selection’s status as a fan favorite was superceded by the weariness that stemmed from the collective’s unyielding obligation to perform it.
Unfortunately, Puente and his outfit struggled initially to recover from their flawed introductory statement. Supported by a 14-piece band that pitted splashes of horns and saxes against the drive of his percussive grooves, Puente dabbled in an array of styles, settling into the gentle ballad Delirio as well as revisiting one of his early mambo hits Babarabatiri. Nevertheless, over the course of his hour-long set, which has been reproduced in its entirety on the aptly titled Live at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival, Puente and his collective took awhile to coalesce as the musicians fell in and out of synch, often accomplishing only what was needed to please the assembled crowd.
In this regard, Tito’s Odyssey, which appeared midway through Puente’s performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival, was something of a turning point for the band. After its playful adaptation of Richard Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra, the collective proved its worth by unleashing a frenzied, fiery, and forceful jam. Settling into a loosely swinging cadence, the outfit took an entirely different approach to Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing, though the results were equally stunning. During Pare Cochero and El Rey Del Timbal, the group shifted gears, once again, in order to revel in the joyous rhythmic interplay among the ensuing circular grooves, colorful horn blasts, and fluttering flute accompaniments that graced the selections.
Without a doubt, the latter stages of Live at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival provide the best glimpse at why Puente is so highly revered and influential. Yet, considering that his future performances at the Monterey Jazz Festival were framed by altogether different sorts of lineups — he never again appeared with his Latin big band — there’s something to be said for the collection’s historical significance. In the end, Live at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival might not always reach the full height of Puente’s potential, but it does provide a sturdy introduction to his canon. ˝
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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