Photographer: Chuck Stewart.
Along with Machito & His Afro-Cubans or Tito Puente, Puerto Rican-born bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Pablo "Tito" Rodriguez laid solid claim to the title "the King of Mambo" in the '60s, while also providing a breeding ground for top-notch Latin jazz instrumentalists, including Eddie Palmieri, Victor Paz, Bobby Porcelli, Ray Santos, and Mario Rivera among countless others. Of the many records he put out during that time period for the United Artists and Musicor labels (both exclusively as their only Latin artists,) El Inolvidable is a collection of many tracks from those albums, not comprehensive by any means, but quite a tasty selection of his songs with a range from the storied mambo and beyond. It's a grouping of mostly studio tracks, including some live performances from the home for Latin jazz bands, New York City's famed Palladium Ballroom. Rodriguez is the lead singer on nearly all of these tunes, and he sounds in top form, never wavering in his strength or resolve of belting out great music for the people. The oldest track is the finale, and the most famous, the vibrant and exciting live version of "Mama Guela," resplendent in its group vocal and infectious joy, going back to 1960. "Blen, Blen, Blen" from 1965 might also be on a par in terms of fame, recognized for its very fast tempo, two-note, horn-fired base, and furious passion. A live take on the traditional "Yambu" is happy as can be, loaded with sax and brass counterpoint, infested with a happy la la chorus. Of the many mambo tunes, Ernesto Duarte's "La Toalla" is the hottest, driven by an unstoppable piano montuno foundation. Rene Hernandez is the man at the 88's who gained his thrust into stardom via the Rodriguez band, and he's brilliant throughout. Check out his contribution during the slow, mystery bolero "Un Cigarillo, La Lluvia y Tu" (arranged by trumpeter Harold Wegbreit,) or the upbeat and choppy "Alma Llanera." The legendary bassist Israel "Cachao" Lopez is featured on his signature jam, "Descarga Cachao," circa 1964. The horns really stand out front and center during almost all of these selections, but especially the classic "Bilongo" from 1968. Rodriguez was in many ways an important songwriter, though he only penned ten of these tracks, the most prolific being "Mama Guela," while the most unnecessary, "Esta Es Mi Orquesta," is a 12-plus-minute spoken word with an instrumental intro of the band that goes on and on. "Estas Vencida" is perhaps the most glorious of the instrumental contributions from the leader, popping and burning over the vocals. "El Lechero" is even hotter, "Llego El Sonero" is taken at a fast mambo pace; there's a deep bass and loud brass battling for supremacy on "Avisale A Mi Contrario," while the more suave side of Rodriguez takes command on live versions of "El Sabio" and "El Que Se Fue." There was a time when the record companies balked at the idea Rodriguez would veer away from dance music for romantic caballero crooning (From Tito Rodriguez with Love his all-time best seller), as represented on the Luis Cruz song "El Tirabuzon," a slow ballad such as "No Me Beses Mas," or the slight charanga feel of Felix Reina's "Si Te Contara," but these tracks helped his albums consistently move out of record stores. Consider there were some 400 tunes in the repertoire of Rodriguez during this decade -- a lofty degree of productivity and quality -- so the 30 tracks that show up on this collection were dutifully selected with a discriminating ear for perfection. There's no doubt this compilation fully captures Rodriguez at the height of his powers and popularity, an essential item for all who enjoy and revere this vibrant, exciting music.
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