Live at the Playboy Jazz Festival

To fully grasp the exuberance that made the late Tito Puente bigger than life and stage, it helped to witness one of his live performances.

To fully grasp the exuberance that made the late Tito Puente bigger than life and stage, it helped to witness one of his live performances. Paradoxically, on this recording—featuring an all-star Latin band (pianist Hilton Ruiz, percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo, drummer Ignacio Berroa, and trumpeter Charlie Sepulveda, among others)—Puente is less mambo king and more mainstream Latin jazz artist/consummate bandleader. The gem of this recording is surely a guest appearance by seminal conguero Mongo Santamaría (on his own classic "Afro Blue"); Santamaría also partakes in the ensuing percussion jam "Ti-Mon-Gi." Puente and company are evocative on Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" and blistering on Duke Jordan's fast-clipped "Flight to Jordan." The disc closes with "Obsesión," which evolves into an all-out Latin jam. A decisive finale for a recording that highlights yet another facet of Puente's musicianship.—LC