José Rizo’s Mongorama
Jose Rizo’s Mongorama, founded in 2011, is a nonet consisting of four percussionists and other musicians performing high spirited Latin jazz. As the band name implies, their music is inspired by conquero Mongo Santamaria’s early 1960s band, one that paved the way for popularity of Latin jazz worldwide. This is their third album, following Mongorama and Baila Que Baila. Bandleader José Rizo is also the popular disc jockey who hosts the long-running Jazz On The Latin Side on KKJZ (KJazz 88.1 FM) in Los Angeles. Musicians include flutist Danilo Lozano (the group’s musical director), tenor-saxophonist Justo Almario, violinist Dayren Santamaria, pianist Joe Rotondi, bassist Ross Schodek, Joey De Leon on congas, Alfredo Ortiz on bongo, guiro and chekere, the late timbale master Ramon Banda (whose place is taken by George Ortiz on half of the set), singer James Zavaleta, and a few guests including trombonist Francisco Torres who wrote nine of the arrangements and co-wrote five songs with Rizo.
Ramon Banda was one of the greatest timbale players in Latin jazz. Mariposas Cantan is his final recording. Banda played with Poncho Sanchez for years, recorded with Cal Tjader, and was also a jazz drummer with organist Joey DeFrancesco. Banda recorded six of the selections of Mariposas Cantan before becoming ill and passing. His last recorded solo is on the track “Mongorama.” This CD is dedicated to him and it includes Rizo’s “Descarga Ramon Banda,” an exuberant piece performed by the full group plus Francisco Torres as a final farewell.
Other highlights include Cal Tjader’s “Mambo Mindoro” (which is a little reminiscent of “Afro Blue”), featuring violinist Santamaria in fine form. Singer James Zavaleta takes the mic on the joyful love song “Mariposas Cantan” while “Helen Of Jazz” (a tribute to the late disc jockey Helen Borgers who requested flutist Lozano on this piece) has infectious work from the percussionists and features Lozano’s flute. Zavaleta and flutist Lozano interact on several of the numbers including the playful “Quindimbia” and “East L.A. Meets Napa.” The ever-popular Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” has a strong Almario tenor solo as does “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya”. Add in the excellent singing of Alfredo Ortiz on “Fiesta De Charangueros” and Yoshigei Rizo (the leader’s daughter-in-law) during the ballad “Como Fue” and this makes for a terrific upbeat set of modern Latin jazz.
José Rizo worked for KCSB-FM, and KIST-AM before debuting his long-running (now 30 years) Jazz on the Latin Side program on KKJZ-FM in 1990. Always very interested in Latin music (particularly jazz), Rizo has produced jazz and Latin music festivals, co-founded the Saungu Record label with his wife Leticia V. Rizo, and in 2000 put together the Jazz on the Latin Side All-Stars, a 16-piece star-filled Latin jazz band that has recorded four albums. Nine years later he also began leading Mongorama. The release of Mariposas Cantan, like most Latin jazz, is made for dancing. Try to sit still while listening. It’s nearly impossible.
- Jim Hynes