By Norm Harris
Mambo Negro, a fiery seven-piece Latin/world music ensemble, returned last Friday to Flushing Town Hall on an unseasonably warm November evening to open for internationally renowned Latin Jazz flautist Dave Valentin.
The crowded cabaret-style seating area with small intimate tables bearing drinks and food covered much of the dance floor, and added to the authentic atmosphere.
Georges Rodriquez, vibist and ensemble leader performing for an enthusiastic standing-room-only crowd, raised the mercury in the comfortable performance space to a sizzling intensity with the fast-paced heavily vibrophonic Cal Tjader classic tune, “The Continent.” This opener, stylishly followed by a rolling array of high-energy tunes, like the Tit Puente signature piece, “Oy Como Va” and the beautiful and sensual number, “Marie Cervantes,” inspired the room full of fans to repeatedly applaud and whistle their approval.
Dave Valentin on flute, ably accompanied by Bill O’Connell on the piano, electric bassist Rubin Rodriquez, legendary Conga and percussionist Milton Cardona and drummer Robby Ameer, kicked up the energy in the room to new levels.
At times, one could look out into the audience and see the fans vigorously applauding their appreciation. At other times one would witness many of the smiling faces with their eyes closed as they swayed in their seats, quietly soaking up the musical vibe of beautifully spiritual offerings, like the mesmerizing Mongo Santa Maria classic, “Afro Blue.”
Valentin's virtuosity on flute was eminently apparent, as was his comfort as the ensemble's leader during tunes in which he literally voiced homage to his “greatest mentors” like Machito, Tito Puente, and fellow ensemble mate Nelson Cardona.
The first offering, “I love You Porgy,” and every tune that followed, including a Wayne Shorter favorite of Valentin, “Foot Prints,” proved to be great fan favorites. The venue's producer, Clyde Bullard, featured on electric bass during this tune, demonstrated his Jazz chops. Valentin talked to the audience several times during portions of the set, focusing on his Puerto Rican and Bronx heritage and that of his Latino fans in attendance.
During some of the tunes, the various instrumentalists were featured or soloed, often with Valentin's flute, fleshing out the piece with staccato riffs or vibrato laden passages and extended high notes.
At one point, Valentin gave his ensemble freedom to solo, and instructions to “do whatever they wanted to.” However, as a long-standing fan of Valentin, I felt that his use of a select and repeated profanity during a few brief audience/artist interactions, only tarnished what turned out to be, after all, a deeply appreciated first-rate performance.
Reach jazz writer and photographer Norm Harris by e-mail at JazzShots2000@aol.com or call 718-347-3606.