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Hot Patato

Jazz on the conga line.

Border crossings involving jazz rarely yield results that don't draw criticism. Nevertheless, despite being steeped in the Afro-Cuban tradition, conga wizard Carlos "Patato" Valdez's new album should be able to find a home in traditional jazz collections. Valdez, 73, a master of the fast and melodic rumba variation known as Guaguanco, also has played jazz with flutist Herbie Mann, trombonist J.J. Johnson and vibraphone master Cal Tjader.

The record starts out with a swinging mambo feel on "San Francisco Tiene Su Propio Son" ("San Francisco Has Its Own Sound" (RealAudio excerpt), which, in addition to the leader's conga stylings, features pianist Rebecca Mauleon-Santana, who brings a jazz chordal approach to the whole date. (As fine a pianist as she is, the pianoless "Guloya Swing," (RealAudio excerpt) is a welcome change of pace.) The hypnotic bassline and layered vocals that kick off "Desde el Fondo del Rio" bring a modern feel to the record, while "Yo Tengo Ritmo" (RealAudio excerpt) reminds one of tenor icon Sonny Rollins, with saxophonist Enrique Fernandez dancing above the rhythms with a laid-back carnival vibe. It's island music for the mainland, full of melody, drive and life.