« Roots of Mambo 1930-1950 » by Blues & Rhythm

John Lee Hooker’s « Mambo Chillen », The Hawketts « Mardi Gras Mambo », Earl Bostic’s « Mambostic » and the name of one of Willie Egans’ record labels – just a few examples of the influence of the mambo wich should be familiar to many readers. By the mid-fifties the term « mambo » - much as salsa was to be a couple of decades later – had really become a catch - all term within the music business for « exotic » sounding music. « We were trying to play a calypso-type style », recalls Hawketts drummer John Boudreaux of the  aforementionned number on www.bestofneworleans.com, and Hooker’s piece is hardly Afro-Cuban. But just what was the mambo ? This double CD sets out to explain. The detailed notes (even more detailed in the French version) define the style as the union of Afro-Cuban music and American jazz, an evolution from Cuban forms such as the danzon, the son, and particurarly on this evidence, the rumba. Given the early dates of many of these titles, it is no surprise to find some very seretypical attitudes - the Congo seems to be the thirties’ punter’s choice for country of origin (please pipe down at the back, you ethnomusicologists) – and perharps equally un surprisingly, Cab Calloway is responsible for a lot of this, mugging his way shamelessly through several tracks with terrible lyrics – « chili con conga , that’s a new song-a, chili con conga, let’s beat the bonga’indeed ! – but allied to some very convincing sounding music from his orchestra. Elsewhere both Duke Ellinghton and Louis Armstrong turn in fine, if contrasting, treatments of the ground-breaking « Peanut Vendor », and the collection opens in fine stylewith Manolo Castro And His Havana Yatch Club Orchestra’s 1931 rendering of « Saint Louis Blues », which certainly does have the spanish tinge. Moving on, actual Cuban musicians become more involved with the mainland’s musical out put and the late forties « Cubop » experiments of Dizzie Gillespie are well-represented (ranging from some very pretentious items to several lovely « authentic » Afro-Cuban sounds), as are Machito’s recordings, though these are most often recalled nowadays more for Charlie Parker’s presence. Troughout, the Cuban groups are lively and unfailingly interesting. Some readers may like to note the presence of such sidemen with R&B pedigrees as Cecil Payne and Al Sears. Particularly note worthy and intriging are the two 1950 titles by Erskine Hawkins, R&B sides (one sung by Jimmy Mitchell), though with a definitive Latin persuasion. This is just one more facet of a truly fascinating set. Norman DARWEN – BLUES & RHYTHM