Jack Costanzo ‘Mr Bongo’ CD/2LP/Dig (Jazzman) 5/5

jack-costanzoIncredibly master percussionist Jack Costanzo is now in his mid-nineties and it has taken this long for some open-minded record company to decide to pay homage to his talent with an anthology. This is where Jazzman records enter the fray and are second to none with a major heavyweight retrospective of his career, and not a day too soon for this writer’s taste. Costanzo is something of a musical legend who was the favoured percussionist of none other than Nat King Cole and even taught Hollywood actor Marlon Brando how to play on Latin percussion instruments. What is less known is that he even accompanied the late great Tubby Hayes, arguably the UK’s finest saxophone player, and a supreme example of how the two shaped up is to be found here with the Afro-jazz flavoured, ‘Adjaye adjaye’. Newcomers to the Latin tinge in jazz will be right at home with the full-on larger ensemble reading of the standard ‘Caravan’ in the company of Costanzo and his Afro-Cuban band and they certainly cook up a storm. However, the jewel in the crown is a devastating reworking of the Spanish folk song, ‘Malaguena’, that here becomes a frantic piano from the great Eddie Cano and percussion-led ditty with Latin piano vamps complete with a son montuno breakdown section to truly whet the appetite. Latin music seldom gets better than this. Big band mayhem ensues on the infectious ‘El Diabolito’ with some exquisite bass phrasings and a choppy percussive beat underneath it all. What really comes across is the sheer speed of hand that Jack Costanzo possessed in his prime and the trumpet-led ‘Cumbanchero’ features manic-paced percussion while ‘Bongo fever’ is like an A-Z lesson in bongo performance. Little wonder, then, that Costanzo became known as ‘Mr Bongo’, a sobriquet coined by none other than the renowned jazz critic and composer, Leonard Feather. A pared down Latin workout on ‘Sax con ritmo’ works a treat while evocative flute emerges on the decidedly eastern sounding, ‘Taboo’. The evocative 1950s style cover in red, white and black finishes off an impeccable and long overdue re-issue that is the most significant and indeed enjoyable Afro-Cuban historical musical document of the year.

Tim Stenhouse