This release marks the first vinyl reissue of the jazz classic by master conguero Mongo Santamaría. First released in 1976, Sofrito combines jazz with Afro-Cuban grooves, funk and soul. This edition is pressed on 180-gram vinyl.
Craft Latino, the Latin repertoire arm of Craft Recordings, is proud to present the first remastered vinyl reissue of Sofrito, the soulful, kaleidoscopic Latin jazz session that stands as one of the most inspired albums in Mongo Santamaría’s prodigious discography. At a time when most Afro-Caribbean giants were flirting a little too closely with disco and easy listening, the Cuban percussionist’s cosmopolitan vision struck an enviable balance between the stylistic exploration of the era and a sobering commitment to the essence of Latin jazz roots.
The new edition of Sofrito with lacquers cut by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio is pressed on 180-gram audiophile quality vinyl. A special bundle offer including a limited-edition Sofrito T-shirt is available exclusively at the Fania store. In addition, Vinyl Me, Please is releasing a 180-gram salsa roja red vinyl exclusive variant.
Sofrito is one of those rare fusion albums that preserves the original mystique of the ’70s while assuming an exotic new sheen in the intervening decades. There are echoes of like-minded artists such as Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, Gato Barbieri and fellow percussionist Tito Puente in this eclectic session. A generous bandleader, Santamaría leaves plenty of space for his team – including keyboardist Armen Donelian, bassist William Allen and producer Marty Sheller – to contribute a wealth of compositional ideas and instrumental touches. But his exuberant fusion of funk, cosmic jazz-rock, Afro-Brazilian balladry and Cuban chanting maintains at all times a robust authenticity. Sofrito grooves like few other records, and stands today as a paradigm of tasty ’70s fusion.
Born in 1917 in Havana, Santamaría played percussion at the Tropicana Club during the golden era of Cuban music. In 1950, he moved to New York and quickly secured a spot as the conga player with Tito Puente’s orchestra, forming a virtuoso percussion trio together with Puente on timbales and Willie Bobo on bongo. Eventually he moved to the West Coast and performed with Cal Tjader – a tenure that influenced the smooth, elegant sound of his solo career. After recording the self-penned Afro-Cuban standard “Afro-Blue” in 1959, Santamaría experienced his greatest commercial success in 1962 with a funky version of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” that pioneers the bouncy sweetness of the boogaloo movement that would boom only a few years later. Released as a single, the track reached number 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
By the time he recorded Sofrito in 1976, Santamaría had the confidence of a successful bandleader who had mastered his craft, allowing him to stretch the limits of Latin jazz. Opening cut “Iberia” sets up a cinematic mood with its complex, ethereal melodies and echoes of Brazilian samba, while the haunting “Cruzan” sounds especially poignant today, evoking the nostalgic atmospherics of ’70s Latin jazz. From the simmering blues of “Spring Song” to the devastating bass line of “O Mi Shangó” and the rousing self-assured groove of the title track – featuring a majestic piano intro by Armen Donelian and soaring trumpet solo from Mike DiMartino – this is an album that exemplifies the heady ambition of ’70s Afro-fusion, at its most soulful. Santamaría passed away in 2003 at age 85, and this first vinyl reissue of Sofrito gives us a new chance to remember his musical genius.