CD of the Month Club- June 2006

Ray Mantilla
Live at The Kitano
December 23, 2005

By Eric Frazier

The minute you walk in to The Kitano, you can hear the music permeating the environs. It makes you feel like you are riding a carpet of notes and conga rhythms right through the lobby and up the stairs to the lounge. Ray Mantilla was in his element driving the music with Latin rhythms and saucy salsa. Ray took one solo that was intricate and engaging, connecting beats that formed the most beautiful sound patterns from his conga drums. Mantilla was accompanied by Edy Martinez on piano, Mike Freeman on vibes, Alex Hernandez on bass, and Bill Elder on drums. Together they created a great holiday celebration at The Kitano.

The next piece was a cha-cha that opened with Mike Freeman on vibes. The music was mellow and consistent. Alex Hernandez got a chance to shine on bass, with ample space to explore the bass. It was jazzy, and quite different from what you might hear in a classic cha-cha. In the next selection, Ray opened with a solo. He utilized the three congas in frequent patterns, ingeniously impro- vising the sounds of tone, pitch and bass. He then moved to the timbales, working over the classic clave rhythms in his own dancing way.

Mantilla. “Manteca.” Could the musical explora- tion of the evening be complete with the meet of these two? By this time, the audience was enjoy- ing a real party! Ray sang the melody while he played, and the audience sang along with him. Mike then took a solo on vibes, as the rhythm section continued to smoke. Edy Martinez, on piano, delivered eloquent solo statements. Ray then crafted a solo that incorporated melodic and rhythmic elements on his essentially-percussive based group of instruments—the conga to the quinto to the tumbadura and on to the bongos and the timbales. The next selection opened with a 6/8 rhythm and a fascinating drum solo by Bill Elder. Ray joined in on bongos and then on con- gas. The sounds meshed together like a woven quilt—there were classic swing grooves, up- tempo bebop and more.

The second set opened with salsa. Ray be- gan to clap and get the audience involved. Mike was featured on the vibes. One of the beautiful things about listening to music at The Kitano is the proximity of the audience to the performing artists. You are literally sitting in and around the bandstand (there really isn’t a bandstand, of course). The intimacy of the setup enables you to hear the musicians speaking and preparing for the next song. That’s just what happened as I could hear Ray asking one of his bandmates “what’s next!” This was definitely a high energy evening! Alex took a solo on bass that seemed to heighten the mood of the music. Ray was smooth, study and intense as he set the founda- tion for each solo. Edy Martinez followed. Ray’s next selection was a tune from Cal Tjader called “Soul Sauce.” It is another fun piece that en- gaged the audience in singing along—on the chorus. Mike Freeman was featured on vibes on the next tune, with subtle accompaniment by Mantilla on bongos and then congas. Ray jumped up and led the crowd in clapping clave style, followed by a solo that involved the use of a wide variety of conguero rhythms—something that had to be seen and heard, to appreciate in total.

This was a great performance by a master who has withstood the test of time! Stay tuned for the May 23, 2006 release of his new CD entitled Good Vibrations.