CD Review

Bobby Matos, The Best of Bobby Matos (CuBop/Ubiquity)

"I don't speak Spanish, but I understand everything when I'm dancing" goes the opening line (and extremely long song title) of one of the catchier tracks on this anthology of percussionist Bobby Matos' rich catalog. As Denise Cook drops this spoken-word homage to the intensity and fire of Latin music, Matos keeps true to his word of making people dance with a flurry of conga rolls and piano stabs. Cook makes a lyrical connection between mambo and Africa, conjoining a long history that coalesced and gelled in New York in the '50s and '60s.

With Fania Records pumping out booty-shaking salsa that proved as political as it was social, Latin fever was the prime meeting ground of the Caribbean, Latin American, African and American musicians. This is about the time Matos was given affirmative head nods from masters such as Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo, and indeed, listening to these 14 tracks, he deserves his own accolades. Unlike these giants, however, he thrived as a sideman to Ben Vereen, Jim Croce and African legend Miriam Makeba. It was not until 1993's Collage-Afro Cuban Jazz that he stepped up as bandleader, explaining the crisp studio textures of this best-of collection. While Matos holds down the beat on all tracks, he thrives with the help of friends: Dave Pike's excellent, glassy marimba on "Mi Alma Latina"; Jack Costanza's primal conga work on "Trompeta y Bongo," a song accentuated brilliantly by Gilbert Castellanos' trumpet; and Michael Turre's flutes and reeds throughout numerous tracks. Even Matos steps up to the microphone, leading a call-and-response chant on the hypnotic, albeit-too-short rendition of Pharoah Sanders' "The Creator Has a Master Plan." Clocking in at just more than six minutes, this song—paralleling much of Matos' work—retains a trance-inducing effect that could last for hours.

 
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