José Rizo's MongoramaMariposa CantanSaungu Records

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Mongorama honors the early 1960’s charanga/jazz explorations of
legendary conguero, Mongo Santamaria. Mongo arrived in New York City
in 1950 and became Tito Puente’s conguero. In 1957, Mongo joined Cal
Tjader’s band and quickly became well-known in the Jazz world. In
1960, with his new Jazz fame, Mongo began a new group integrating
Cuban-charanga rhythms with Jazz. The standout stars in this group
were tenor saxophonist Chombo Silva, flautist Rolando Lozano, and
violinist PupiLegaretta. We have our three with tenor saxophonist
Justo Almario, flautist Danilo Lozano (Rolando’s son), violinist
Dayren Santamaria(not related to Mongo) and formidable musicians Ramon
Banda (timbales), Joey De Leon (congas), Joe Rotondi (piano), Alfredo
Ortiz (guiro/bongo/vocals), James Zavaleta (lead vocals), George Ortiz
(timbales), and Ross Schodek (bass). By modernizing and modifying
these elements we created Mongorama, attempting to preserve that
classic Mongo sound of the 1960’s, but yet creating something new.

“Mambo Mindoro” is a Cal Tjader original from his 1980 Grammy winning
album “La OndaVa Bien”. It features the versatile instrumental attack
of violinist Dayren Santamaria and conguero Joey De Leon.

“Mariposas Cantan” translates to’ butterflies sing’. The story relates
that “butterflies singinside my heart when I see you walk, when I hear
your voice  as you open that door and enter the room”.Young James
Zavaleta proves that he has become a top-notch ‘sonero’ on vocals.
Master tenor saxophonist Justo Almario masterfully gives the title
track exactly what it needs with his superb phrasing.

“Helen of Jazz” was composed in honor of the late KJazz 88.1 FM (Los
Angeles)discjokey Helen Borgers. When I mentioned to Helen that I was
working on this original, she first felt honored, and then she
requested that Danilo Lozano perform the flute solo. Sadly, she never
had the opportunity to listen to “Helen of Jazz”. She would’ve
absolutely loved Danilo’s excellent flute rendition. Alfredo Ortiz was
solid on bongo, and I also invited the very talented young vocalist
Darynn Dean to perform some beautifully creative vocal colors.

I asked Danilo Lozano if he would allow us to use one of his 1970’s
originals, recorded by his family band “Tipica Antillana”. Alfredo
Ortiz was impressive as lead vocalist on this tune, improvising lyrics
describing the rich charanga history, and acknowledging the legendary
icons of the Cuban charanga music style. Stellar solos abound with
Dayren Santamaria (violin), Joe Rotondi (piano), Joey De Leon
(congas), Justo Almario (tenor sax), Danilo Lozano (flute) and George
Ortiz (timbales). Danilo’s original was a very strong addition to this
album.


“A little Dab’ll Do Ya” comes from a 1962 live recording at the
Blackhawk in San Francisco. It was never released, until this
forgotten live session was added as bonus tracks to the 1998 Mongo
compilation CD “Watermelon Man”. The depth and space on this song
provided ample room for master tenor saxophonist Justo Almario to spin
his magic and Joe Rotondi’s soft touch reveals how great of a pianist
he really is, along with Alfredo Ortiz’s tasty bongo patterns. My
intent was to capture some of the 1960’s romantic vibe of Mongo Latin
Jazz. Hopefully we did.

“Quiero Menudo” is a reminder that if you took too many tequila shots
last night, menudo is the ultimate hang over (cruda) cure. It’s a fun
tune that hit me during a family/friend Thanksgiving hangout a few
years ago. The story tells about a person that wants to go into the
city and hang out with buddies and not drink very much ….. well his
mischievous friends had other plans. He couldn’t remember if he sang,
danced, or where he parked his car. In the morning he was longing for
that crucial cure ….. menudo. Danilo Lozano plays some wonderful
flute and lead vocalist James Zavaleta was fantastic in his vocal
delivery. “Mongorama” is the title of the Mongo Santamaria original
composition that I chose as the name for this band. Mongo contributed
this tune to a Cal Tjader session in 1957 -“Los Ritmos Calientes”.
Justo Almario displays some exciting “Chombo” echoes and Ramon Banda
gifts us with his very last powerful recorded solo.

“Quindimbia” is an early Mongo Santamaria composition that features
lead vocalist James Zavaleta entertaining you with a very joyful,
contagious vibe enhanced by the traditional flute work of Danilo
Lozano. We tried to investigate what quindimbia meant, but to no
avail. It appears as though it might have been some early form of
Cuban street game, like stick-ball. In early 1962, young pianist
Herbie Hancock recorded an original on his debut album “Takin’ Off”
titled “Watermelon Man”, inspired by a childhood memory of a Chicago
street vender selling watermelons. Later that same year he subbed for
Chick Corea on a Mongo Santamaria gig. His mentor, trumpeter Donald
Byrd, attended the performance and asked Herbie to play his new tune
for Mongo. Herbie started playing the piano part, Mongo added congas,
then the bassist joined in, then the others in the band followed, and
before you knew it , most of the audience got up to dance yellin’,
“It’s a hit!”. Mongo asked Herbie if he could also record it and
Herbie responded, “Absolutely!”. Mongorama laid out a deep funky
groove under the funkier Justo Almario tenor solo, Joe Rotondi’s
eloquent piano feel and Joey De Leon’s multifaceted conga
deliberation. Young vocalist Darynn Dean added additional tasty vocal
improvisations.

It took us over two years to complete this album because we sadly lost
our ‘Mongorama’ brother, timbalero Ramon Banda. Ramon did record on
the 6 tracks.”Mariposas Cantan” is Ramon’s very last recording
session. His passing was a huge loss to the band. Beyond our great
friendship, he was our musical brother. Ramon Banda recorded with
Poncho Sanchez, Cal Tjader and organist Joey D’Francesco. Ramon was
one of thee very best timbaleros on the planet! This CD is dedicated
to Ramon. On “Descarga Ramon Banda” I wanted everyone in the band to
pay a farewell tribute in their own musical way. It was an emotional
experience to say the least. Francisco Torres gave us a wonderful
arrangement, transcribing a Ramon Banda solo that our percussionists
performed. “Descarga Ramon Banda” poured out exceptional solos by
Justo Almario (tenor), Joe Rotondi (piano), Francisco Torres
(trombone), Dayren Santamaria (violin), Danilo Lozano (flute), James
Zavaleta (lead vocals), Joey De Leon (congas) and George Ortiz (timbales).

One of the most memorable boleros recorded by my favorite sonero of
all time, Beny More, was “Como Fue”. Since female recordings of this
standard-bolero-classic are not very common, I felt that Yoshigei, my
daughter-in-law, could give us a soothingly-dynamic, fresh and modern
version. She can really sing and I am glad to include her as part of
this album. Familia! Pianist Joe Rotondi added a gorgeous soft touch
to make the song sound even more
elegant.

“East L. A. Meets Napa” is a fantastic annual fundraising event
produced by AltaMed, honoring the many hard-working,
critically-acclaimed, Mexican-American wine makers based in the Napa
Valley. They all began their journeys as farm workers, ‘campesinos’,
working the land, growing the vines and eventually owning their
vineyards and wineries, producing amazing world-class wines. As a
bonus track to this CD, I wanted to compose a fun acknowledgement to
the event and to all of these hard working wine makers and their
achievements. Danilo Lozano is phenomenal on flute and James Zavaleta
gives us an exceptional performance on lead vocals.

The artwork on the album cover was painted by my beautiful and truly
talented wife, Leticia (Saungu Records co-owner). Familia! “Mariposas
Cantan” is our 3rd Mongorama CD (5th Saungu Records release) and it’s
exciting to hear our sound and band concept continuing to evolve. The
versatility of our musicians, incredible arrangements by Francisco
Torres and Oscar Hernandez, and Danilo Lozano’s producing expertise
and great knowledge of charanga music have made the Mongorama
recordings exceptional. We hope you all enjoy “Mariposas
Cantan”.

Jose Rizo
Mongorama- founder & bandleader
co-producer, Saungu Records co-owner

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