Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mambo Gallego

Pictured above are Armand Assante, Antonio Banderas, and Desi Arnaz, Jr. from the 1992 film "The Mambo Kings."  I loved the movie for its music, scenes of the Palladium, fine acting, tortured love triangle and sheer stylishness, but had to fast forward through too many pointless skin scenes to recommend it.

It nevertheless features my favorite movie dance.  Set to Tito Puente's "Mambo Gallego" (Galician Mambo) it is sultry without being trashy, and dynamic without being flashy.

It's not just the tightly choreographed Assante and Marushka Detmers who capture the eye.  It's all of the dancers on the floor, who incarnate the music in swaying limbs.

If the clip compels you to seek the sound that drove the mania, Tito Puente's oeuvre is free on Spotify.  I'd especially recommend "The Complete 78's," a set of four albums that features scores of great mambos.

Here is an interview with Armand Assante about his drum duel with the legend.  The scene from the movie is included in the clip.

I saw Tito Puente in concert in the '70's at the Winterland Ice Arena in San Francisco.  It was hardly the 50's Palladium, but the place pulsated nevertheless.

His orchestra was the lead act for Malo (Bad), a band featuring Carlos Santana's little brother, Jorge.  Carlos had mainstreamed Puente's song, "Oye Como Va," to the rock generation.  But Puente's act was so far above either brother's band that the respective billings constituted a criminal inversion.

My Aunt's response to the news flash that I'd discovered a great new act (some old guy) was to look at me like I'd just been born. "Oh, brother. I danced to his band as a kid growing up in New York."

Tito's music indeed spanned generations, and is still capable of uniting them in celebration.

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