By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Three master congueros, each with a distinctive style, lend the Conga Kings' accelerated pulse, but the name is meant to highlight the heart of the group, not describe the entire body.
As do all the top percussionists in Latin jazz, this conga drum triumvirate displays a deep sense of context. On their self-titled recording, Candido Camero, Carlos "Patato" Valdés, and Giovanni Hidalgo juxtapose the visceral nature and immediacy of their African drums with the reflective, Cuban-country tres and the urgent vocals of New York Latin dance music. Parts of this album sound like an updated version of Top Percussionby Tito Puente, a classic "high-fidelity" percussion record from the Fifties. Like Puente's group, the three featured players here display mucho technique and taste, and never digress into excessive, ego-driven mishmash. The result is a pleasant album with enough bite to invite listeners to hit the dance floor.
The Conga Kings, who switch smoothly from Afro-Cuban improvisations to Latin American folk songs to Latin jazz to rumba, bring a concert version of their group that is eleven players strong, including their lead singer. But the real treat is in the Kings ' ensemble playing. There's nothing like the primal sweetness of nine conga drums being played by six masterful hands. Andrés Solar