Rhythm corps

Drums of Passion
Columbia Legacy

Tito Puente
Dance Mania 
RCA Legacy

Revisionism alert: The propulsive 2 and 4 of rock 'n' roll-rhythm and blues wasn't the only big beat shaking America from the doldrums of the late 1950s, and these recent reissues are the forceful reminder. 

For Exhibit No. 1, we have the work of Nigerian ex-pat Olatunji. Sure, America had been talking about "jungle music" since the 1920s when Duke Ellington shrugged off the derogatory connotations to market his then-exotic sounding horn section. But flash forward to the 1950s, and America gets a real dose of motherland music from a New York University grad student (public administration) who starts a percussion group to earn money on the side. Discovered by the legendary Columbia A&R man John Hammond, Olatunji entered the studio in 1959 to record Drums of Passion, which became a sensation. Olatunji with three percussion protégés and nine chanting singers made music that was enchantingly polyrhythmic, sometimes menacing, yet ebullient in a way that nothing commercially available had been before (and perfectly timed for the hi-fi explosion when thousands of Americans needed show-and-tell discs to test their watts). Rounding out CD 1 of this are initially unreleased session tracks plus interesting, though uneven, songs with such jazzmen as Clark Terry and Yusef Lateef from 1961 and 1962; CD 2 has the 1966 More Drums of Passion with an expanded, more aggressive-sounding percussion section, six singer-chanters and sometimes trippy production from Teo Macero, not to mention more tunes incorporating jazz musicians that went unreleased at the time. 

For Exhibit No. 2, take bandleader-percussionist Tito Puente, an exemplar of New York's Palladium Ballroom scene, a 1950s cultural melting pot along the lines of what Prince would celebrate 40 years on: "black, white, Puerto Rican/everybody just a freakin'." Such was the mambo era, merging the sophisticated momentum of jazz and jazz arrangers with the sharp songs, dance-floor rhythms and percussive fusillades of Latin music (which is to say, that two distinct streams of music, flowing out of Olatunji's Africa were reunited in the Big Apple). The original 1957 Dance Mania was the disc that rode the crest of the mambo craze, the biggest disc of Puente's career and arguably the most-heralded, and the core of CD 1. But Dance Mania Vol. 2 from 1960, comprising much of CD 2 here, while no longer groundbreaking, is in some respects even hotter.

Much could be said about the impact of these two artists, but just consider them in the context of Carlos Santana, who copped from both, even scoring early hits with covers of Puente's "Oye Como Va" and Olatunji's "Gin Go Lo Ba" (rechristened as "Jingo").

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