(Congas: Luis Conte)
One of the premier studio aces for percussion, Conte released this record in 1989 and put together a “who’s who” of the recording industry at that time to back him up including a few gems on drum set: Jeff Porcaro, Carlos Vega, and Alex Acuña. The grooves are deep and pre-Pro Tools, which shows how solid of a percussionist Conte is. More or less a fusion record, all the tracks are tinged with Latin-flavoring capped with the last track, “El Solar,” which is straight up guaganco.
(Congas: Various - Los Muñequitos de Matanzas)
Los Muñequitos de Matanzas is arguably the most recognized Cuban rumba group. Do you want to hear a real guaganco? Listen to “Llora Como Lloré” and you’ll hear the Mantanzas version, which is unique unto itself. The abakua, “Que Dice el Abakua,” shows how the vocal chants work with the congas polyrhythmic 3 on 4. All the tracks are superb and authentic. Jesus Diaz says, “That CD has lots of info on how to improvise in clave.”
(Congas: Juan Pepin, Milton Cardona, John Rodriguez, Luis Conte)
A modern recording capturing the classic mambo era – the soundtrack to The Mambo Kings movie features four outstanding ensembles: Mambo All-Stars, Celia Cruz Band, Tito Puente Band, and Linda Ronstadt’s band (actually Alex Acuña plays percussion with Los Lobos who has a couple cuts as well). A must have for the mambo big-band reference. All the conga performances are well recorded and very genuine in tradition.
(Congas: Raul Rekow, Karl Perazzo)
It’s hard to go wrong with any Santana recording, but this live 1993 release is a good mix and captures Raul Rekow’s congas extremely well. The interplay with Karl Perazzo on timbales, as well as the rest of the rhythm section, illustrates how well percussion can gel to form a tidal wave of sound. Rekow’s solo break on “Black Magic Woman” is brief but very well stated, crisp and clearly audible. Rekow and Perazzo have played together for many years, and it shows on the extended solo on “Soul Sacrifice.” Santana’s sound should be classified in its own category, but this record is a great case in point of how congas can drive a “rock” band.
Carlos “Patato” Valdes
(Congas: Carlos “Patato” Valdes)
Patato is another legend with his own sound and style. Masterpiece may not be his absolute best album, but it showcases several different styles from this conga master. The straight ahead Latin-jazz track “Cute,” slow bolero “Reflexionando” or the cha-cha laced “Montuno de Patato” all have tasty solos as well as some traditional chants and bata on “Tonan Che Cabildo a Ochún.”
(Congas: Don Alias)
Hearsay is one of David Sanborn’s funky contemporary jazz records and Alias grooves his butt off. This record has several tracks with great conga grooves. The opener, “Savanna,” is a shuffling syncopated conga pattern that mimics the bass and organ, and because his congas are tuned to the key, it percolates perfectly with the rhythm section. The triplet groove on “Little Face” is a cool laid-back in-the-pocket 6/8 feel. A great example of the use of congas in this non-Latin context.
(Congas: Mongo Santamaria)
There are many recordings featuring the late Mongo Santamaria, not only as a solo artist, but also as an in-demand sideman. Mongo Returns is one of his later recordings that has a few contemporary jazz tunes, but also contains some traditional Afro-Cuban Mongo magic. I like this record for the fact it showcases Mongo in a couple different styles with more modern electronic instruments, yet with a large ensemble. The opener, “Kiss In Her Glance” is a rumba-tinged Latin-jazz number, while the funk-shuffle “Slyck ’N’ Slyde” is a complete departure from tradition. All in all it is a great example of a conga legend grooving in different genres on one record.