Mambo was all the rage in the 1950s, thanks to Cuban maestro Pérez Prado. And among the best artists of the era was Bronx-born Ernesto "Tito" Puente, a prolific musician, songwriter, and bandleader whose legacy resonates to this day. Though his best-known tunes are readily available in stores, his earlier recordings have been difficult to find because most were on 78 rpm records that had never been released in any other format. Until now. Under the direction of collector Joe Conzo, 80 mono recordings made between 1949 and 1955 were painstakingly remastered and sequenced in four discs (two more volumes are scheduled for release in the coming months). Several of the rarities came from Conzo's personal collection because the master tapes could no longer be found (and you can sometimes hear the crackle of the original disc). The sets provide a beautiful document of Puente's talent. On these tracks, you hear how he added to the genre by introducing improvisational elements of jazz and other influences, helping to develop the more electric New York format of Latin music that we know today as salsa dura.
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